Smokers are misinformed about safety and efficacy of nicotine replacement therapy

Nearly half of all smokers in the United States attempt to quit at least once per year, yet the majority of these efforts fail. One factor contributing to the low annual rate of successful cessation is that the majority of quit attempts are made without evidence-based treatment such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Despite doubling a smoker's chance of quitting cessation aids are still infrequently used. Findings from a study appearing in a recent issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors demonstrate that there are widely held misperceptions about the health effects of using NRT, and that correcting these misperceptions may increase NRT use and thereby reduce smoking rates.

The study, which was fielded in partnership by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK) and Legacy®, reported that smokers are misinformed about the safety and efficacy of smoking cessation aids. Specifically, 93 percent of smokers did not know smoking while wearing the nicotine patch does not cause heart attacks. In addition, 76 percent of smokers did not know nicotine patch, gum and lozenge are not as addictive as cigarettes. Further, 69 percent of smokers did not know NRT products are not as harmful as cigarettes.

However, the study found that education could increase smokers' consideration of NRT use. Specifically, more than half of those who were interested in quitting reported they would be more likely to use NRT if they were shown accurate safety information.

"The data indicate a need to further inform smokers about the methods that can effectively help them quit," said Saul Shiffman, Ph.D., researcher on the study and professor in the departments of psychology and pharmaceutical science at the University of Pittsburgh and senior scientific advisor at Pinney Associates, which provides consulting services to GSK. "Of particular note, 84 percent of respondents requested feedback on their incorrect answers in the survey, suggesting smokers want information regarding quitting and are interested in learning about the safety and efficacy of cessation strategies."

Smokers' NRT Safety and Efficacy Knowledge:

Information regarding the safety and efficacy of NRT as reported in the analysis was commonly inaccurate. Consider the following:

  • Only 32 percent of respondents knew the nicotine patch, gum and lozenge do not cause cancer.
  • Fully 70 percent of respondents were not sure or incorrectly thought NRT therapies are designed to make quitters feel sick if they slip in their quitting plan.
  • Almost 70 percent of respondents did not know smoking cessation products containing nicotine are not as harmful as cigarettes.
  • More than three-fourths of respondents incorrectly responded that smokers who use NRT are just as likely to fail as people who quit without assistance.
  • Only about half of respondents knew NRT can double a smoker's chance of quitting versus placebo.
  • More than 79 percent of respondents did not know smoking cessation therapies can help smokers quit long-term, as opposed to short-term.

"These findings represent a tremendous public health opportunity," said Jane Allen a researcher on the study and senior research associate at Legacy. "If we can better communicate with smokers about the safety of NRT, we may be able to increase NRT use and – as a result – increase successful, long-term quitting."

Many smokers need help to quit successfully. NRT products, such as Nicorette® gum and lozenge and NicoDerm®CQ® patch, are recommended as first-line treatments for smoking addiction in the U.S. and can reliably increase long-term smoking abstinence rates and double a smoker's chances of quitting over using nothing to aid in their quit attempt.  These FDA-approved medications are proven safe and effective to help smokers quit.


GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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