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Smokers who use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches or gum to quit are just as likely to start smoking again as those who quit “cold turkey,” according to a new study. The findings cast doubt on these products’ effectiveness in preventing relapse, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The study included 787 smokers who had recently quit. Almost one-third of those who participated in a follow-up interview two years later said they had relapsed, and almost one-third said they had relapsed a year after that. Smokers who used nicotine replacement patches, gum, nasal sprays or inhalers were just as likely to relapse as those who quit without the help of any of these products.

There was no difference in relapse rates among people who used NRT for more than six weeks, with or without professional counseling, the study found. There was also no difference in quit rates among heavy or light smokers who used NRT.

“What this study shows is the need for the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulation of both medications to help smokers quit and tobacco products, to approve only medications that have been proven to be effective in helping smokers quit in the long-term and to lower nicotine in order to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes,” co-author Gregory N. Connolly, Director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release.

The federal government recommends that smokers consider using medication when they try to quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note in a fact sheet that nicotine replacement products have been found to be effective for treating tobacco dependence. Tim McAfee, Director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC, told the newspaper that hundreds of studies have shown nicotine replacement products increase the chances of quitting.

The study findings appear in the journal Tobacco Control.


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