By Richard Lenti
It’s probably the number one New Year’s resolution. Sixteen million Americans will make it. Yet only one out of 15 people who vow to quit smoking will actually succeed.
Still they will try. And many will turn to nicotine replacement products – an $800 million dollar a year industry — to help them kick the habit.
But do nicotine gum and patches really work? A recent study published in the journal Tobacco Control seems to indicate that for the most part, nicotine replacement products do little and have no lasting benefit.
Researchers at Harvard’s Center for Global Tobacco Control followed nearly 800 smokers who tried to quit over a six year period. They were asked about their use of nicotine gum and patches, along with their periods of not smoking and relapses.
The study found that those who used nicotine replacement products had no greater success quitting than those who didn’t. Heavy smokers who used gums and patches actually fared worse. They were twice as likely to relapse as heavy smokers who did not use them.
On paper, the reasons to quit seem obvious. The American Cancer Society reports that about 45 million Americans smoke, with cigarette smoking causing about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States, resulting in 443,000 deaths annually.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s a fact that’s not lost on smokers. Using data from 2001 through 2010, the CDC found that nearly 70% of the smokers surveyed wanted to quit for good. Over half tried to quit in the previous year, but only about 6% succeeded.
Dr. Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic believes the poor success rate can be blamed at the haphazard approach many smokers take to quitting.
Hurt sees the use of nicotine replacement products as a tool, not a solution, and says their success depends on tailoring the combinations and doses to match the individual patient’s needs.
“Patient compliance is a very big issue,” Hurt says.
In addition to nicotine replacement products, smokers wanting to quit also have the option of using the cognitive behavioral therapy promoted by companies like QuitSmoking24/7. In that approach, smokers are subjected to a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps them understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their unwanted behaviors.
“People can succeed,” said company CEO Devlyn Steele. “People fail not because they don’t want to quit, but because they focus on nicotine and don’t have a plan to change behavior.”
Steele says changing behavior leads to neurological changes in the brain that break the associations and reasons a person smokes.
Some studies have suggested that 25% to 50% of smokers who use cognitive behavioral therapy achieve some level of success, be it quitting or cutting back.
“There is not a single reason that anyone needs to use or be on a nicotine replacement product ever, or fear the withdrawal,” says Steele.
Regardless of what method a smoker uses to quit, most experts agree that a number of factors will come into play ultimately affecting their chance for success, including motivation, social environment, and the amount of support they get from family and friends.