A study this week had disappointing news about nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT. A long term study by researchers at the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health, published in the journal Tobacco Control, followed nearly 800 smokers who had recently quit smoking for five years. They had them fill out surveys three times during those years. Each time, the surveys showed one in three former smokers had relapsed, and it barely mattered what method they used, including going cold turkey. In other words, while nicotine replacement is pretty good at helping people quit over the short term, over time the lure of tobacco is too strong.
We asked Tom Glynn, Ph.D. director of science and trends, what he thought the study tells us.
“I’m not surprised at the results of this study, because evidence is accumulating that smokers who use NRT do not often use it as directed, nor do they use it long enough to stave off relapse, suggesting that we need to better educate NRT users and the physicians and pharmacists who recommend it.
“We also need to consider recent evidence that shows that NRT for many people is more effective when used longer than the 12 weeks currently on the package inserts, and convince the FDA to modify its current recommendation so that it will be maximally effective.
“I’m a bit more surprised at the authors’ conclusion (although it’s an argument that has been around for years) that ‘…increasing individual treatment coverage should not be at the expense of population evidence-based programs and policies.’
“The tobacco control field needs to stop acting as if it is involved in a zero-sum game and instead advocate for comprehensive tobacco control approaches that include BOTH individual and population based approaches. In other words, we need to make support available to help smokers quit and work to change the environment around them to make relapsing (or starting smoking) harder.
“The data are very clear that this is what works and that it is cost-effective. Our advocacy activities should reflect that and not pit one approach against another.”