Combating the smoking menace with nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy acts as a staunch support system to a person’s willingness to quit smoking, writes Professor Jagannath, former State Consultant for Karnataka and an expert on National Tobacco Control Program


The urge to smoke is not an easy feeling to overcome. Nicotine, one of the 4000 chemicals present in cigarettes, is responsible for the urges and cravings associated with addiction to tobacco. However, the damage to lungs and other vital organs in the body are caused not by nicotine but by tar and other toxic gases, many of which are cancer causing, and that are released from the burning of tobacco when one smokes.

Michael Russell, the father of tobacco harm reduction theory and developer of nicotine gum, in 1976, stated that “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar”.

An unaided attempt to quit smoking may lead to withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, restlessness, difficulty in concentrating etc. These withdrawal symptoms further make quitting more tough. Many smokers try to quit smoking cold turkey. However, it has been reported that going cold turkey has only 3 percent success rate – which means out of 100 smokers who decide to quit smoking, 97 of them would start smoking again within a short period of time.  Nicotine Replacement therapy (NRT) is approved by the WHO & US FDA as an effective smoking cessation aid. NRT supports a quitter’s willpower and thus helps reduce tobacco dependency. Its use is known to improve chances of quitting by 50-60 percent as opposed to an unaided attempt to quit. Nicotine gum is the largest selling format available in NRT.

Nicotine gums contain only nicotine, the component that causes addiction to tobacco. It is free of the plethora of other chemicals that a cigarette contains, and so does not cause harm to the body as a cigarette would. Nicotine gums provide the body with very small amount of nicotine; this small amount of nicotine works efficiently to tackle the urges and cravings associated with attempts to quit smoking.

Over a period, a smoker can quit the habit gradually. As one progresses in their quit journey, they would need lesser number of gums daily. Eventually, by the time one quits smoking completely, they will not require the gums either.

By quitting smoking we can help create a healthy living for oneself.  Although nicotine replacement therapy helps an individual’s quit smoking, there have been doubts around the health implications of using nicotine for a prolonged period. But it is very crucial to understand that the Nicotine Replacement therapy (NRT) is an effective solution to quit smoking. Also, long term NRT use has been found to be safe and not associated with increased health-risks, certainly compared with continuing smoking. US public health service guidelines have suggested that NRT might be absolutely necessary to quit smoking and support an individual’s willpower throughout the de-addiction journey; it is medically much more preferred than smoking.

The journey towards de-addiction takes a lot of willpower to sail through the constant urges and cravings. Nicotine replacement therapy acts as a staunch support system to a person’s willingness to quit smoking. While providing biological assistance, it helps create a strong wall of willpower for a person to go farther in the de-addiction journey; eventually attaining a smoke-free and a healthy life.

About Author: Professor Jagannath is the former State Consultant for Karnataka, and also worked for a World Health Organization (WHO) funded project on National Tobacco Control Program.

Note: The views expressed by the author are his own and the BioVoice doesn’t necessarily subscribe to them.