Smoking is widely acknowledged to be one of the most preventable causes of death and disease in the world, yet tools for quitting often fall short. One of the most widely used treatments is the nicotine patch, which is approved and recommended by the FDA, yet it fails miserably for smoking cessation. Although research backs up this abysmal failure rate, you don’t need detailed research to understand why. If you are a smoker, you know.
People smoke to satisfy a craving and an addiction, sure – but they also smoke because they crave the social interaction that often comes with smoking, and the physical act itself. Do you step out onto the balcony at a party, and gather with a small group of friends to slap nicotine patches on your arms? No, that little social interaction, often more than the nicotine hit itself, is what keeps us lighting up. You don’t replicate that social interaction with a nicotine patch. The same goes for nicotine gum.
Nicotine patches work simply bypassing low doses of nicotine through the skin and into the bloodstream. It does relieve the patch-wearer from the headaches and other side effects that often come from quitting, but in so doing it only addresses half of the smoker’s need. There are two sides to the cessation story – cessation tools like patches will relieve some of the worst effects of quitting, but they will not provide the smoker with the positive social and physical interaction they crave, sometimes even more than the nicotine itself. Smoking is only part physical addiction – the mental and psychological aspect is even more powerful, and no nicotine patch will ever be able to satisfy that end of the smoker’s need. The only tool on the market which can do both is vaping – which satisfies the social element, while also delivering nicotine, but without the harmful carcinogens contained in cigarette smoke.
A Harvard Medical School blog notes a study which compares vaping with other nicotine replacement therapies. In a study of 900 people who wanted to quit smoking, half received e-cigarettes and the other half received nicotine patches or nicotine gum. All participants also received four weeks of counseling. Ten percent of those who used patches or gum were able to quit smoking after a year, while 18 percent of those who switched to vaping were able to quit smoking completely. Traditional smoking cessation strategies (nicotine patches and gum) are much more widely studied, but this and other early studies which compare vaping with other NRTs show that vaping as nearly twice as effective as nicotine patches for those who want to quit.
Multiple studies reinforce the failure rate for nicotine patches, with some pointing to even more disappointing results of as low as a 3.4 percent success rate. Yet despite the fact that nicotine patches offer little benefit, and in most cases do no good whatsoever, the FDA and other authorities continue to recommend them.
Another paper from Vanderbilt University pointed to similar results, with success rates of nicotine patches standing at 8.2 percent after 24 weeks. The research also showed a potential downside of nicotine patches. While the patch may relieve the craving for nicotine, 22.8 percent of users reported side effects that included abnormal dreams, itching and burning of the skin where the patch was applied, nausea and diarrhea.
A study from a researcher at the Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health in France suggested similar results. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked over 5,000 smokers over 2 years in France. The research did show that those smokers who vaped and then quit smoking were slightly more likely to relapse to smoking, but the risk of relapse dissolved among those who had taken up vaping more recently. This may be due to enhance technology being used in e-cigarettes. The study shows that those who stop smoking from 2010 on had an increased risk of relapse, but those who quit after 2013 were less likely to relapse. Vaping hardware today is as easy to use as lighting up a cigarette, with vaping starter kits that include everything you need to get started. Even more importantly, e-liquids are available which contain lesser amounts of nicotine, including liquids which are completely nicotine-free.
For those who want to quit smoking, switching to vaping is twice as effective as using a nicotine patch, and you have the added benefit of being able to hang onto those social interactions that smokers enjoy.