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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Early Patch Use Helps Smokers Quit

Wearing Nicotine Patch Prior to Quitting Doubles Success

Nicotine Patch Boosts Success continued...

A month later, half the smokers who had worn the nicotine patches before quitting were still not smoking, while only about a quarter of those who initially got the placebo patches remained smoke-free.

Rose tells WebMD that preliminary findings from a larger study involving 400 smokers confirm the results. He plans to present that research at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in two weeks.

A similar study by different researchers, published in 2004, included 100 smokers who wore nicotine patches two weeks before quitting and an equal number of smokers who wore placebo patches.

Six months after the target quit date, 22% of the pre-cessation nicotine patch users were still not smoking, compared with 12% of the participants who wore the placebo patches.

"All three studies suggest a doubling in the quit rate," Rose says. "That is a significant effect."

Strategy Appears Safe

Rose says the FDA may need to re-evaluate its current warning against smoking while wearing the nicotine patch if the findings are confirmed.

Nicotine overdose has not been found to be a problem in any of the studies.

Smoking cessation expert Scott J. Leischow, PhD, tells WebMD that early concerns about nicotine overdosing have not been borne out by the research.

"What these studies seem to show is that rather than getting a lot more nicotine, people tend to compensate for the nicotine they get through the patch," he says.

In other words, when smokers get the nicotine their bodies crave they tend to smoke fewer cigarettes.

Rose likens it to sitting down to a big meal when you are already full.

"When wearing a nicotine patch, the body and brain already have a certain level of nicotine, so the cigarette's delivery of nicotine is not as noticeable," he says.

Leischow, who is deputy director of the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona, says smokers who use nicotine replacement medications for a short time before quitting may end up using them more effectively.

He is a former senior advisor for tobacco policy for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and former chief of the Tobacco Control Research Branch for the National Cancer Institute.

"This approach looks very promising," he says. "Clearly, a more effective method of using these medications could be very beneficial."

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