Is the Nicotine Patch a Good Way to Stop Smoking?

Woman placing nicotine patch on her arm, close-up
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One of the most popular NRTs (nicotine replacement therapies) available on the market today is the nicotine patch. First introduced in the U.S. by prescription only in 1992, the patch could be bought over-the-counter beginning in 1996.

Is the Nicotine Patch Effective?

Studies have shown that using NRTs can be helpful in a person's quit program and that using the nicotine patch can double the rate of success with smoking cessation.

That said, it's important to note that the nicotine patch, or any other quit smoking aid for that matter, is not a cure-all. They are exactly what the name implies..aids. They are useful tools, but ultimately, success or failure with quitting tobacco depends on you, not your quit aid.

Foster the mindset you need to quit smoking successfully and you'll find the lasting freedom from nicotine addiction that you're looking for.

How It Works

The nicotine patch resembles a square tan or clear bandage. The size depends on the dosage and brand used but generally is between one and two inches square.

The nicotine patch provides a steady, controlled dose of nicotine throughout the day, thereby reducing the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Patch strength is reduced over time, allowing the user to wean themselves off of nicotine gradually.

How to Use It

Nicotine patches typically come in three different dosage strengths: 21mg, 14mg, and 7mg, though this may vary between manufacturers slightly. These numbers refer to the amount of nicotine in the product.

The 21mg patch is usually recommended as a starting point for people who smoke a pack of 20 cigarettes or more daily. From there, following package instructions, the user 'steps down' to lower dose patches until the final step down to no patch.

The nicotine patch should be applied once a day to clean, dry, hairless skin. Manufacturers usually recommend wearing the patch between 16 and 24 hours a day, depending on what you're comfortable with.

However, wearing the nicotine patch to bed at night can disrupt sleep and cause vivid dreams. If this becomes a concern, remove the patch before bed and put a fresh one on the next morning.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of nicotine patches may include:

  • Itching, burning or tingling when the patch is applied. This usually goes away within an hour and is a result of nicotine coming in contact with the skin.
  • Redness or swelling at the patch site for up to 24 hours.
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If any of the above symptoms are severe or do not go away, consult your doctor.​

Notify your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe rash or swelling
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heartbeat or rhythm
  • Difficulty breathing

If you take any other medications, be sure to check with your doctor before starting the patch, as it can change the way some medicines work.

Special Precautions

Let your doctor know if you have any illnesses, including the following:

  • Chest pains or a recent heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Thyroid disease
  • Diabetes
  • Skipped or irregular heartbeats
  • Allergies to tapes, bandages or medicines
  • Skin rashes or skin diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney or liver disease.

Smoking While Using the Nicotine Patch

Do not smoke when using nicotine patches or any other NRT as you run the risk of receiving an overdose of nicotine.
Signs of a nicotine overdose may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Bad headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Cold sweats
  • Drooling
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Hearing problems
  • Weakness or fainting

If you suspect an overdose, take the patch off and call your doctor immediately.

The nicotine patch is a solid tool to help you quit smoking, but remember: the magic of success lies within you.

Work on developing the resolve to do whatever it takes for however long it takes, and apply yourself daily to the task. Do this, and lasting release from nicotine addiction will be within your reach.

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Article Sources

  • Medline Plus - Drugs and Supplements - U.S. National Library of Medicine
  • Silagy, C et al. Meta-analysis on efficacy of nicotine replacement therapies in smoking cessation Lancet 1994 Jan 15;343(8890):139-42.