Nicotine Replacement Therapies: What Are They, and Do They Really Work?

The tobacco epidemic has consumed many lives. The WHO found that nearly one in four adults in the world smoke tobacco.

Even worse, the estimated number of young teen males and females between the ages of 13 to 15 years old who use tobacco products is approximately 50 million. This has given rise to an increasingly unhealthy society and a tobacco epidemic that kills more than 8 million people a year.

Over the years, many products have been released as a means of intervention for smokers. One such intervention is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), a continuously evolving market with varying levels of effectiveness. Below, we take a closer look.


What is NRT?

NRT is the most commonly used family of quit-smoking medications, working on the principle that moderated and controlled nicotine consumption can eventually wean you off the chemical entirely.

As we’ve previously discussed in Tips to Quit Smoking, NRTs help reduce the withdrawal symptoms and the cravings users might feel when they decide to quit. They also do not contain the other chemicals associated with smoking tobacco, such as tar or acetone.

Examples of NRTs

NRTs come in many different forms. One of the more well-known ones is nicotine gum, popularized by established brand Nicorette and even by the young startup Lucy, which are widely available online and in drug stores. The product is taken orally and releases nicotine through slow chewing. The user may observe the absorption of nicotine as a faint tingling sensation.

Like regular chewing gum, nicotine gum can come in various flavors — from sweet fruity tastes to classic mint — to entice adults of different ages. This strategy is similarly incorporated in nicotine pouches, another form of orally-taken NRT released into the market in 2015, that delivers the foreign chemical nicotine through the gums rather than the lungs.

How does NRT work?

NRT eases your body’s dependence on the addictive chemical while stimulating the brain receptors targeted by nicotine to decrease the chances of relapse.

By minimizing your body’s intake of harmful toxins present in smoking tobacco, NRT also jumpstarts your body’s physical recovery.

While there have been people who were able to successfully quit without medications or NRT, they encompass only about 6% of the total attempts. Meanwhile, research published in NIH consistently reports that NRT can increase quit rates by at least 50 to 70%. The rate is even higher for methods combining different forms of NRT such as pouches and patches, or combining NRT with counseling.

Does this mean that NRT is completely safe? Not necessarily. Nicotine is still a foreign chemical that, no matter how cleanly sourced, is still an addictive substance that can narrow artery walls and increase the risk of heart disease.

Furthermore, while the lungs are no longer directly impacted by nicotine consumption, oral forms of NRT can still irritate the gums and affect oral hygiene.

Therefore, every attempt at cessation must be consulted with your primary healthcare provider who can best recommend the proper treatment and diagnose the correct dosage of NRT for your body. With NRTs, we can ensure a healthier community free of the tobacco epidemic.

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