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Addicted to Nicorette

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Long-Term Risks? continued...

In some published studies, people have used nicotine gum up to five years, according to Richard Hurt, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "As far as we now know," he says, "there are no heart or vascular problems associated with long-term use."

Cigarette smoking itself, of course, can cause serious, life-threatening health problems. But the nicotine in the gum is delivered slowly through the mucous membranes in the mouth, and at much lower levels than the quick-hit surge of nicotine that occurs when puffing on cigarettes. At the same time, the gum does not contain any of the cancer-causing substances present in cigarettes.

"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."

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