Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is considered the best way to stop smoking by many ex-smokers. The treatment consists of a range of different products that are designed to provide a small amount of nicotine – enough to curb cravings and lessen the effects of withdrawal – but without the carbon monoxide, tar and other chemicals found in tobacco smoke. NRT products include:
Nicotine patches are attached to your skin in the same way as a plaster, and deliver a small, constant supply of nicotine through your skin and into your bloodstream. This slow release reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making you less likely to smoke. They are very discreet and can be worn under clothing.
Nicotine gum works by releasing small amounts of nicotine into your mouth as you chew. You then hold the chewing gum between your cheek and gums and the nicotine passes into your bloodstream, providing the hit that you need to keep cravings at bay. Patients are usually advised to chew a piece of gum every 1 to 2 hours for up to six weeks.
Nicotine lozenges work in a similar way to gum. Patients let the lozenge dissolve slowly in the mouth where nicotine will be released into the bloodstream. It’s essential that you use the lozenges exactly as directed as having too few will prove ineffective, and too many can cause side effects.
Nicotine nasal spray
Nicotine spray is directed into the nose. Once administered, the nicotine passes through the soft lining inside your nose and into your bloodstream. This curbs your cravings and helps to break the habit of smoking.
Nicotine inhalators provide an instant hit of nicotine that makes them particularly effective for counteracting sudden cravings. Inhalators look a little like plastic cigarettes and contain 15mg of nicotine which is absorbed through the lining of your mouth.
What are the pros and cons of NRT?
One of the biggest advantages of nicotine replacement therapy is that it can be used by the majority of patients, including those under 18 but over the age of 12 (with the exception of lozenges which could only be given after obtaining medical advice). Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised to avoid NRT. It is also readily available on the NHS meaning that you can get most products free of charge from your doctor or NHS stop smoking service. The side effects of NRT are largely less serious than prescription medications too.
The only real disadvantages of NRT are that it doesn’t actually lessen the enjoyment of smoking and it still involves the absorption of nicotine, albeit at much smaller doses.