Using Nicotine Patch Before Quit Date Ups Success

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter
Sunday, November 19, 2006; 12:00 AM

SUNDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Giving nicotine patches a two-week "head start" more than doubles the chances they'll help smokers kick the habit, research finds.

A U.S. team found that by applying the patch 14 daysbeforethat last cigarette, users greatly boosted their long-term success rate.

The initial study was published earlier this year in the journalNicotine and Tobacco Research, and a second trial has now replicated those findings, according to Jed E. Rose, medical research professor and director of Duke University's Center for Nicotine Cessation Research. He led the original study and is co-inventor of the nicotine patch.

One concern for some experts was that wearing a patch while still smoking might prove too toxic, or actually boost addiction by putting more nicotine in the body.

Not true, Rose said. "We have also found in the recent studies that the success rate is double even when smokers switched to a low nicotine or de-nicotinized cigarettes during the two week pre-cessation treatment period, and this procedure further allays any concerns about the possibility of nicotine overdose."

In the original study, the Duke team tracked the progress of 96 smokers who expressed a desire to quit. Half wore the patch two weeks before their quit date; the others wore a "dummy" patch that had no nicotine.

After four weeks, 23 percent of those wearing the fake patch for two weeks before stopping had quit. In contrast, 50 percent of those who wore the real patch for two weeks before their quit date managed to kick the habit.

Those who wore the active patch before the target quit date also smoked less than usual during the two weeks before quitting and reported fewer cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The theory is that cigarettes are less rewarding and less satisfying when there is already a level of nicotine in the body supplied by the patch.

But Rose added one caveat: "Although there is no evidence that [using the patch while smoking] poses any problem, the current labeling on nicotine replacement products advises against doing so," he said. Rose believes the labeling should be re-evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The nicotine patch first became available by prescription in the United States in 1992 and then went over-the-counter in 1996, according to the FDA. Brand names include Nicoderm, Nicotrol, Habitrol and ProStep.

About 21 percent of American adults, or 44.5 million Americans, currently smoke, according to estimates from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following instructions, the typical smoker applies a new patch each day to a different area of dry, clean skin in an area that is not hairy -- usually the upper chest, arm or hip. The patch is worn for about 16 to 24 hours, depending on specific product instructions.

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