Quitting smoking is tough, and using a gum or patch does not help in the long term. Image: Flickr / Fried Dough / CC-BY

Quitting smoking is a long and difficult process that many governments have poured millions of dollars into encouraging. A new study, however, shows that nicotine replacement therapies do not have an effect on the long-term success of individuals trying to quit smoking.

The cost of smoking

Smoking is an expensive habit, both personally and on a societal level. U.S. government statistics say that smoking tobacco leads to $96 billion in medical costs each year, and 443,000 deaths each year are linked to tobacco use. The new health care reform law provides additional federal funding to stop-smoking counseling and programs. In fiscal 2012, the federal government is expected to spend $456.7 million on stop-smoking programs. As of Sept.23, 2010, all insurance plans were required to offer stop-smoking programs of some sort.

Nicotine replacement ineffective

Nicotine replacement systems have long been a part of stop-smoking therapies suggested by government programs and other advocates. Previous studies have shown that nicotine replacement, such as nicotine patches and gums, improves the chances of quitting smoking for six months or more, when used as directed. The latest study by the Harvard School of Public Health, due to be published online within the next week, shows that nicotine replacement therapies do not help long-term stop smoking efforts. The study of 787 subjects showed that 31.6 percent of individuals relapsed after four years, no matter if they had used nicotine replacement or not. Nicotine replacement is effective in helping smokers quit in the short-term because the products reduce cravings for cigarettes; in the long-term, cravings often win.

What is effective in stopping smoking

Stopping smoking is, in the best of situations, very difficult. The federal government has set a goal of reducing smoking rates to 12 percent by 2020; currently about 19 percent of American adults smoke on a regular basis. The most long-term effective methods of curbing smoking have proven to be smoking bans and additional taxes on cigarettes. Making smoking more expensive and difficult does cut smoking rates, but it also takes a bite out of the tax revenue that some states have come to rely on.


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