Nicotine patches branded a waste of time as study finds they don't help smokers quit long-term

  • Former smokers just as likely to relapse if they used nicotine replacement therapies to help them quit

Unsuccessful? Nicotine replacement therapy was found to have no impact on quitting success in the latest study

Nicotine patches are no  better than willpower at  helping smokers to quit, research shows.

Earlier clinical trials had suggested nicotine replacement therapy could double a smoker’s chances of giving up the habit.

But a new study of 800 patients found patches made no difference to long-term quitting rates.

Researchers said the earlier trials had failed to replicate ‘real-life’ situations. They said success and relapse rates were similar whatever method smokers adopted.

The NHS spends an estimated £84million a year on stop smoking   programmes. A week’s supply of patches, which can be obtained on prescription, cost £10 to £14.

The latest study – by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts, Boston – investigated patients who gave up smoking between 2001 and 2006.

It concluded: ‘The main finding is that persons who quit relapsed at equivalent rates, whether or not they used nicotine replacement therapy to help them in their quit attempts, in clear distinction to the results of randomised clinical trials.’

The results were the same for heavy and lighter smokers and whether counselling was or was not given.

Harvard’s Hillel Alpert said: ‘This study shows that using NRT is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long term than trying to quit on one’s own.’

The cost of quitting: People can spend up to £14 a week on patches

In an online report in the journal Tobacco Control, fellow author Lois Biener said the funding for NRT might be better spent on other interventions. In replacement therapy, patches, gum, nasal sprays or inhalers are used to supply nicotine to the bloodstream.

NHS figures show that quit rates – giving up for at least four weeks – are slightly better for patients using willpower than patches.

However, a Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Other studies have shown that NRT is safe and effective, and can double a person’s chances of successfully quitting.’

Further American research released yesterday suggests that nicotine patches can help improve memory loss among older people.

Non-smokers with failing brainpower who used patches for six months had a 46 per cent improvement in their memory skills, according to a report in the journal Neurology about the study at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

Previous research has suggested nicotine helps brainpower among Alzheimer’s sufferers.

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