Gums and Patches No Better than Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey: Study

It’s just as hard to quit smoking using the nicotine patch as it is dropping the habit cold turkey, according to a new study. With the existing concerns surrounding the psychological side effects of the prescription smoking cessation drug Chantix, some experts are beginning to think quitting without chemical aid may be the best way to go. 

Harvard and University of Massachusetts researchers published the findings of a study in the journal Tobacco Control, which suggest gums and patches are no more effective at curbing the craving for cigarettes than quitting without aid.

Gums and patches that slowly release nicotine into the body to reduce the desire for cigarettes are known as nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) and are heralded as an easier way for smokers to kick the habit. However, this new study casts doubts on those claims.

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Researchers conducted a prospective cohort study on 787 Massachusetts smokers who had recently quit. They found that about one-third of those who had quit eventually relapsed. Whether they used an NRT appeared to be irrelevant. In fact, the heaviest smokers who tried to use an NRT without counseling were the most likely to relapse.

The findings are the latest in a number of studies over the effectiveness of smoking cessation products. Studies so far appear to indicate that smokers might be better served quitting cold turkey.

This new study did not evaluate prescription medications, such as Chantix, which do not serve as nicotine replacements, but rather reduce the craving for cigarettes. However, side effects of Chantix have been linked to reports of suicidal thoughts and unusually aggressive behavior, leading many others to suggest that the risks may outweigh the benefits provided in helping people stop smoking.

Chantix (varenicline) was approved in the United States by the FDA in 2006 as a prescription medication to help people quit smoking. While it was initially heralded as a potential blockbuster medication, sales have remained weak amid reports of users committing suicide on Chantix or engaging in random acts of violence.

Unlike nicotine-replacement gums and patches, Chantix works by blocking the receptors in the brain that generate the positive feelings from cigarettes. A number of Chantix lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer, alleging that the medication was not properly researched before it was introduced and that inadequate warnings were provided about the risk of sudden, unusually agressive behavior, thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

In June 2009, the FDA added a “black box” warning to the medication about the potential risk of Chantix behavior changes, depression and suicidal thoughts.

This year, the FDA also issued a drug safety communication about the potential risk of heart problems from Chantix, warning that the smoking cessation drug might increase the risk of certain cardiovascular events, including the risk of heart attack, among individuals who had cardiovascular disease. As a result, Pfizer also faces a growing number of potential Chantix heart attack lawsuits.

With the existing concerns surrounding Chantix and recent data questioning the benefits of gums and patches, individuals wishing to stop smoking may be better off going it on their own or with the assistance of professional counseling.


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