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Nicotine Patch Before Quitting Doubles Success Rate

Practice may be safer than thought, researchers add

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Wearing a nicotine patch two weeks before trying to quit smoking can double the chances of success, researchers report.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and many doctors advise against wearing a nicotine patch while smoking, these researchers found no adverse effects among the smokers in their trial.

"Beginning nicotine patch treatment two weeks before the target quit smoking date doubled quit rates compared to starting treatment on the quit date," said lead researcher Jed E. Rose, director of the Duke University Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation, and co-inventor of the nicotine patch.

"Cigarettes are less rewarding and less satisfying when there is already a level of nicotine in the system provided by the patch," Rose theorized.

In its study, the Duke team tracked the progress of 96 smokers attempting to quit. Half of the patients wore the patch two weeks before quitting. The others wore a phony patch.

After four weeks, just 23 percent of smokers who wore a placebo patch for two weeks before quitting had stopped smoking compared with 50 percent of those who wore the real patch. The same pattern continued for six months, the researchers found.

In addition, many of those who wore the patch before their target quit date smoked less than usual during that period, had fewer cravings, or more easily switched to a low tar/low nicotine cigarette. The patch also reduced withdrawal symptoms.

The report appears in the Feb. 1 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Rose believes that wearing a patch before quitting should be tried as a strategy to help smokers quit. "If this finding holds up then, hopefully, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may modify their label," he said. "The current label prevents smoking while using the patch."

Experts have worried that wearing the patch while smoking was too toxic or could increase addiction by putting more nicotine into the body, but this latest research and other studies have shown there is no danger in the practice, Rose said. "We did not see any adverse effects in this study," he said. Rose's team is continuing the study, this time with 400 people.

"Stay tuned to the research results coming in," Rose said. "Consult with your physician as to what the best method for quitting will be."

The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

One expert agreed that using a nicotine patch before quitting might be a useful approach.

"A pretreatment on an active patch can be helpful," said Dr. Tony P. George, director of the Dual Diagnosis and Smoking Research Program at Yale University School of Medicine. "I think it's an example of the way we need not just brand new chemicals, but small-scale innovations in the way current products are used that can yield a substantial benefit."

However, since this method has not been approved by the FDA, George thinks it cannot be recommended by companies that make the patch. "It certainly appears in this study to be safe," he said. "Other studies of the patch used during smoking have also demonstrated its safety. For people who are healthy, it may be worth trying," he said.

More information

For more on quitting smoking, head to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: Jed E. Rose, Ph.D., director, Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation, Durham, N.C.; Tony P. George, M.D., assistant professor, psychiatry, and director, Dual Diagnosis and Smoking Research Program, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Feb. 1, 2006, Nicotine and Tobacco Research
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