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Addicted to Nicorette

Smoking Gum

Long-Term Risks? continued...

"The major harm from smoking is not caused by the nicotine," says Hughes. "The cancer and heart disease associated with smoking come from the carcinogens and the carbon monoxide in cigarettes."

In fact, if you've been a chronic nicotine-gum user, you may have experienced the most frequent health problem that it causes -- jaw pain produced by constant chewing, week after week, month after month. As for other health concerns, a caveat is usually given to pregnant and breastfeeding women, advising them to use the nicotine replacement product only on the advice of a healthcare provider.

"In the third trimester of pregnancy, there are no adverse effects to either the mother or the fetus with the use of nicotine replacement," says Hurt. But, he adds, no studies have been done on the effects of the product early in pregnancy.

Isn't the Gum Addicting?

If you've ever felt as though you were becoming hooked on nicotine gum, you might not have been imagining it. Even though the nicotine levels in the stop-smoking product is lower than in cigarettes, there could be an addictive component to its use in some individuals.

"In the Lung Health Study of about 3,100 users of nicotine gum, some of whom used it for five years, all had been daily cigarette smokers when they entered the study," says Robert Murray, PhD, professor and director of the Alcohol and Tobacco Research Unit at the University of Manitoba, Canada. "So through cigarette use, these people had established a physical addiction to nicotine, and the gum may have perpetuated that addiction."

Some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they toss out their nicotine gum, according to Murray. These withdrawal effects can include headaches, as well as irritability, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

Nevertheless, a recent study by Hughes concluded that only a small number of long-term gum users truly meet the definition of addiction or dependence, which includes an inability to control their use of the gum. Many more could stop, he says, but are choosing to use the gum for months or years because of their fear of slipping back into cigarette use.

"Most people say that quitting smoking is the hardest thing they've ever done," says Hughes. "With the help of the gum, they've finally been able to quit, and they're scared to stop using it. Some say to me, 'If there's even a 10% chance that I'm going to return to smoking without the gum, I'm going to keep using it.'

"If the gum were something we knew to be harmful, I'd get upset about its chronic use, and insist that they get off it," adds Hughes. "But it doesn't seem to be harmful."

If the choice were between smoking and using a pure nicotine product like the gum, "it's really a no-brainer," says Hurt. "We still want to get people off the gum. But it may take some of them a lot longer than others."

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