A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine puts current nicotine patch treatment guidelines to the test. When nicotine patches were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they were approved for use up to eight weeks. But recently, the FDA changed labeling to allow nicotine patch use for up to six months, based on research suggesting that six months of patch use helps smokers quit moreso than just eight weeks of use. Experts wondered whether nicotine patch use beyond six months would have additional benefits in helping smokers quit.
To learn more, researchers recruited 525 smokers wanting to quit and randomly assigned them to two-, six- or 12-months of nicotine patch use, in addition to regular smoking cessation counseling. Investigators followed participants for a year, tracking both smoking cessation rates and any side effects associated with treatment.
After six months of treatment, researchers found that those still using the patch were significantly more likely to have quit smoking than those using the patch for just eight weeks. Not only were they 70% more likely to have quit smoking by six months, individuals with longer nicotine patch use smoked fewer cigarettes a day if they hadn’t yet quit and reported more smoke-free days than those using the patch for eight weeks. But after a year, researchers found little difference in quit rates between subjects using the patch for six versus 12 months. The good news, however, was that 12 months of nicotine patch use was just as safe as two and six months of use.
Based on these findings, authors conclude that while a year of nicotine patch use is safe, it does not help smokers quit any more than six months of treatment. Thus, experts continue to support nicotine patch use up to six months but do not advise patch use beyond this time, as it has no added benefits related to quitting smoking.