MONDAY, Aug. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Unlike cigarettes, nicotine patches needn't be for adults only: A new study finds they also help teenagers quit smoking.
The study, appearing in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, concludes that teens who tried to quit smoking using nicotine patches had success rates similar to those of adults.
"As far as short-term response, kids who received treatment for smoking cessation achieved abstinence rates equivalent to adults," said study author Joel Killen, a professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"That's encouraging, because past literature addressing smoking cessation for teens has been dismal. This short-term response may give us a foundation to help teens with longer-term quitting," Killen said.
Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society, said that 5 million adolescents in the United States currently smoke. Of those, he said, "about 70 percent say they want to stop."
He said that for a long time it was assumed teens would have an easier time stopping smoking because they hadn't had the habit for as long. However, that's just not the case, he said.
"Adolescents become addicted no differently than adults -- fairly quickly and fairly solidly in as little as several weeks -- so we shouldn't expect it to be any easier for them to quit," Glynn said.
For this study, Killen and his colleagues interviewed more than 500 teens who wanted to quit smoking. They excluded more than half for a variety of reasons, such as depression or no parental consent.
They ended up with 211 teens who smoked at least 10 cigarettes per day, and had been smoking for at least six months before the start of the study. All of the teens included in the study had tried to quit smoking at least once before. One hundred and forty five teens were male, and all were from the San Francisco area.
The teens were assigned to one of two groups -- one received the nicotine patch alone, and the other group received treatment with the nicotine patch and the antidepressant buproprion, which has been shown to help smokers quit.
The nicotine patch was given for eight weeks in a tapering dose, and the starting dose was dependent on the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Those on buproprion received treatment for nine weeks. Both groups also went to weekly counseling sessions.
At the end of 10 weeks, 28 percent of those using the patch alone had quit smoking, while 23 percent of those on both the patch and buproprion had quit. Killen said this difference is statistically insignificant.
After 26 weeks, however, 7 percent on the patch alone were still not smoking, while 8 percent on both medications were still abstinent. Killen noted that even those who went back to smoking were still smoking far less than they had been at the start of the trial.
"Almost all the kids in the trial cut their smoking to a few cigarettes per day or per week," he said.
The bottom line from this study, said Killen, is that "teenagers can be helped in quitting smoking."
Glynn agreed and added, "Teens can stop smoking, but they need help in doing so. It's no easier for them to do it on their own than it is for adults. And medications can help them."
Teens aren't the only ones who have trouble maintaining long-term abstinence from smoking, however. Another study in the same journal found adult women who used nicotine-replacement therapy to quit smoking had a harder time than men staying off cigarettes in the long run. Between three and 12 months, women's abstinence rates dropped, and by a year, men were more likely than women to still be off cigarettes.
"If you're not successful the first time, it's not a failure," Glynn stressed. "Its a rare individual that can stop the first time." But, he added, it's important to keep trying.
Get tips on quitting smoking by visiting the American Cancer Society.