Some Schools Helping Kids Unhook the Smoking Habit
Nonetheless, Hurt believes that using the patch for adolescents is worthwhile. "In the kids who didn't stop, they significantly reduced their smoking and stayed that way long term," he tells WebMD. All of the students in the study decreased their number of daily cigarettes from an average of 18 to less than three. Doctors followed their progress for a year.
Hurt says that the patch could be a successful antismoking treatment for those under age 18 if they receive more counseling. "We can treat them [with drugs] as we would adults, but we need to be aware of the special needs that teens have," he cautions.
Douglas Jorenby, PhD, clinical services director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention in Madison, warns of possible complications in using the patch for adolescents and distributing it through schools.
"In theory, it's a wonderful idea," he says. "But there are potential complications: If they are under 18, they can't buy the patches so their parents would have to buy them or a physician would have to give them a prescription."
Patches are available over the counter but only for those over 18, because nicotine use -- as are cigarettes -- is illegal for those who are younger.
Another problem with more serious implications is the possibility of nicotine poisoning if the patch is worn while smoking at the same time. This could be especially dangerous for teenagers because, Jorenby says, "adolescents tend to be more impulsive in their smoking."
He disagrees with Hurt as to teens' motivation to quit smoking. He says most teens don't want to quit, while the Mayo Clinic researcher says their study showed they did. "We were encouraged that so many of them wanted to quit," Hurt says. "It's mythology in the public that teens don't want to stop."
However, Patricia Chandler, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says the biggest problem she faces in working with youngsters addicted to cigarettes is their lack of desire to kick the habit. "They don't want to," Chandler says. "It's a prestige thing. And dancers smoke because they think it will keep the weight off." Chandler is a family practice doctor specializing in addictions.