Nicotine Inhaler Use Pros and Cons

Woman using electronic cigarette

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The nicotine inhaler is a form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that consists of a plastic cigarette-like tube that houses a replaceable nicotine cartridge and a mouthpiece. The cartridge contains 10 mg of nicotine.


When a person draws on the mouthpiece end of the nicotine inhaler, nicotine is released and absorbed through the membranes in the mouth and throat. Less than 5% of the inhaled nicotine reaches the respiratory tract. 

Of the 10 mg of nicotine in a cartridge, 4 mg can be inhaled and 2 mg absorbed into the body. Each cartridge lasts about 20 minutes and delivers approximately the same amount of nicotine as one cigarette.

Nicotine Inhaler Therapy

Your doctor will instruct you on a course of treatment that's right for you, but manufacturers typically recommend that ex-smokers start with a minimum of 6 nicotine cartridges a day for three to six weeks. If needed, up to 16 cartridges can be used daily for up to 12 weeks. After that, you'll taper down the dosage gradually with the help of your doctor until you're weaned off of it completely.

You should never use more than 16 cartridges in a 24 hour period.

The nicotine inhaler is one of two types of nicotine replacement therapy that requires a doctor's prescription. The other is nicotine nasal spray.

Risk of Addiction

The risk of addiction is low due to how the nicotine is absorbed into the body. Cigarettes deliver nicotine to the brain within seven seconds via the lungs, giving smokers a "pleasurable" hit of dopamine. Dopamine is thought to be directly linked to the addictive process.

The inhaler sends most of its nicotine into the bloodstream through the mouth and throat and is much slower to reach the brain. Ex-smokers don't receive a rush of dopamine and so the experience of using the inhaler is less gratifying. 

It does deliver enough nicotine to take the edge off of nicotine withdrawal, however, which is what it's meant to do.

Nicotine Inhaler vs. E-cigarettes

On the surface, the two are similar, but there are important differences between them.

The nicotine inhaler uses therapeutic nicotine. Therapeutic nicotine is manufactured under strict guidelines because it is regulated. This means that you can trust that the amount of nicotine advertised on the package is exactly what you are receiving.

The nicotine inhaler and all NRTs have a physician-approved course of treatment associated with it. While this isn't a guarantee that it will work or that you won't become dependent on it, it does offer guidelines for usage and has helped thousands of people quit tobacco.

The electronic cigarette is not classified as a quit aid. It is considered a tobacco product, and a smoking alternative. 

Up until 2016, the electronic cigarette was not a federally-regulated product either, so there were no checks and balances on the production of the nicotine solution or the delivery devices. The quantity of nicotine varied considerably, and consumers couldn't trust that what they were receiving was the same as what was advertised on the packaging. 

Federal regulation is in place now in the United States, so going forward, manufacturers will have to comply with standards of production, which will ultimately benefit consumers. Federal regulation will also keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of kids under the age of 21.

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration's latest policy now requires e-cigarette companies to stop manufacturing and selling flavored vaping products (excluding menthol and tobacco) by the end of January 2020.

The medical community and scientists agree that more research is needed on electronic cigarettes before a decision can be made about whether they would be a safe and helpful quit aid.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects associated with the nicotine inhaler include:

  • throat and/or mouth irritation
  • cough
  • stomach upset

Additionally, you might experience:

  • change in taste
  • sinus pain/pressure
  • pain in the jaw, neck or back
  • headaches

In rare instances, side effects can be serious. If you experience a rapid heart rate while using the nicotine inhaler, seek medical attention immediately.

In addition, the nicotine inhaler can cause symptoms that fall outside of those listed here and below in the special precautions section. If you experience anything out of the ordinary while using this product, call your doctor.

Special Precautions

Consult your doctor before choosing the nicotine inhaler if:

  • You are pregnant. Nicotine can be harmful to the fetus so you should try to quit without the use of an NRT if possible.
  • You've recently had a heart attack, have a heart condition, high blood pressure or problems with circulation.
  • You have respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
  • You have hyperthyroidism or insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • You have kidney or liver disease.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to nicotine and share all other medications you're using, including vitamins and supplements.

Signs of Overdose

Do not smoke while using the nicotine inhaler or any other NRT. This could put you at risk for a nicotine overdose.

Signs of a nicotine overdose can include:

  • dizziness
  • upset stomach
  • bad headaches
  • vomiting
  • cold sweats
  • drooling
  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • hearing problems
  • weakness or fainting

If you think you've had an overdose of nicotine, stop using the nicotine inhaler and call your doctor immediately.

Pros and Cons

As with most things, nicotine inhaler use has pros and cons.


The nicotine inhaler reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal by allowing ex-smokers to quit using nicotine gradually. 


The nicotine inhaler reinforces smoking behavior.
When we quit smoking, it is counter-productive to use an NRT that mimics cigarettes both in looks and in how it is used.

The risk of re-addiction. Because the nicotine inhaler is used on an as-needed basis, the potential to abuse this quit aid exists. While the risk isn't high for this particular NRT due to the lack of "smoking satisfaction" it delivers to ex-smokers, the risk isn't zero, either. 

Take care to use this nicotine-based product exactly as prescribed, weaning off of it in the amount of time suggested.

A Word From Verywell

The nicotine inhaler can help you quit smoking, but remember that it is a quit aid, not a miracle cure. The magic for success with smoking cessation lies within you, not a product.

Work on developing the resolve to quit smoking one simple day at a time and be patient. Time, determination, and support will help you win this race. Believe that, believe in yourself and be willing to do the work it takes to quit for as long as it takes. You'll find that you can quit smoking, just as others have.

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  1. National Institutes of Health. Nicotine Oral Inhalation. July 15, 2016.