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Science and Research

A Nicotine Patch for the Long Term

Research Finds Long-Term Patch is More Effective

Quitting smoking is no easy feat. Most people will relapse within a year, and many may try more than once to quit before succeeding. But quitting is possible, and today former smokers outnumber current smokers.

Nicotine patch therapy is one of the most popular smoking cessation strategies. However, the treatment is traditionally eight weeks long, which may not be enough for some people. If they want or need to continue using the patch for longer than 12 weeks, U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines require them to consult a healthcare provider.

Scientists at Northwestern Medicine, led by Brian Hitsman, PhD, assistant professor in Preventive Medicine and Psychiatric and Behavioral Sciences who is also a part of Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, hope to normalize long-term treatment.

By studying smokers on patch treatments lasting eight, 24 and 52 weeks, Hitsman and his team determined that not only was longer treatment as safe as standard treatment, it also could be more effective. Six months after treatment, 22 percent of participants in the traditional eight-week program were still not smoking, compared to 27 percent of those in the 24-week and 52-week programs.

Hitsman believes adherence challenges could be the reason scientists saw no difference between the 24-week and 52-week groups. In this period, people often have trouble staying engaged — something also seen in the treatment of other chronic diseases and conditions. If adherence remains high, it’s possible that another jump in quit rates could occur.

Future research may try to determine who could benefit from longer treatment. People with a longer smoking history, who are more nicotine-dependent or are on their second or third attempts to quit, could benefit from continuing patch treatment beyond six months.