If you’re thinking about cutting back or quitting smoking altogether, the options out there can be overwhelming.
Nicotine patch vs gum is just the beginning -- you begin to sift through nicotine lozenges, inhalers, nasal sprays, pouches, and other newcomers to the market.
How can you tell what’s safe? What is FDA-approved? What actually works? What isn’t too expensive?
What will actually help me curb cigarette cravings?
If you’re thinking about trying a nicotine-replacement therapy (or NRT for short) to help you out, you’re not alone. NRTs exist to bridge the gap between your current cigarette habit and your goals of cutting back.
NRTs work by lessening your withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The question remains: which is better, nicotine patch or gum?
What is a nicotine patch?
A nicotine patch looks like a small, square, tan or clear colored bandage. The patch is designed to help deliver a slow, steady amount of nicotine to gradually decrease your withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking cigarettes.
While prescriptions were previously required, nicotine patches have been available over-the-counter since 1996.
What does a nicotine patch do? How does a nicotine patch work?
A nicotine patch is designed to release small, continuous amounts of nicotine throughout the day. Your body will absorb the nicotine from your skin, decreasing withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine gum works differently in that you’ll want to begin using gum when experiencing stronger nicotine cravings that may come on.
Nicotine patches are deisgned to be worn for 24-hour use. After 24 hours, you’ll want to remove the patch and apply a new one.
When it comes to quitting smoking, nicotine patches may be used as part of an eight-week program. Depending on your daily cigarette habit, you will want to start with strong nicotine patches (15 to 21 or 25mg per day). After four weeks, you can taper down to a weaker nicotine patch (5 to 14mg per day). Because you’ve slowly weaned your body’s dependence on nicotine, you won’t need as strong of a patch over time.
Are nicotine patches safe?
You may be wondering if nicotine patches are bad for you, or do more harm than good.
Nicotine patches have been an FDA-approved NRT product since the early 90s. They are safe, and historically effective.
Can you smoke cigarettes while wearing a nicotine patch at the same time?
You may be wondering what happens if you put a nicotine patch on in the morning, have breakfast, walk your dog, and smoke a cigarette purely out of normal habit and routine.
This is completely normal and, according to health experts, totally ok. There are no grave consequences to occasionally smoking a cigarette while you use nicotine patches.
Nicotine patches are designed to help curb your cravings. But because they can take a few hours to start working in your body, you may still give in to old habits and cigarettes from time to time.
What happens if you’re using nicotine gum and patches together?
If your goal is to quit smoking, you can actually combine nicotine gum and patches to maximize your results.
According to the National Institutes of Health, combining both a nicotine patch and gum will mean you are up to 4 times more likely to stay quit.
Because it can take a few hours for the nicotine patch to start working, nicotine gum can come in clutch when you have intense cravings for a cigarette.
What are nicotine patch side effects? Why do people not like nicotine patches?
Because nicotine patches are classified as over-the-counter medication, you should be aware of common side effects to expect.
There’s also a number of common complaints that come with nicotine patches. If you know someone who’s tried to quit using them, chances are, you’ve heard some of these gripes before:
- Nicotine patches may be difficult to keep on, some people find they are always falling off
- A rash, burning, itching, or redness of the skin have been common complaints of nicotine patches. This can happen if you’re placing the patch in the same area or place on your body. It is advised to change the location of the patch each day you apply a new one -- which can be tricky to remember and plan for
- Weight loss is linked as a side effect of nicotine patches because nicotine may suppress appetite
- Some people report problems with sleeping, including bad dreams, difficulty falling asleep, or very vivid dreaming, when using nicotine patches. Manufacturers advise removing the patch before you go to sleep if this happens to you
- If you found your blood pressure increased while on a nicotine patch, this is a tricky one. It may be that you are taking too much nicotine, or that your blood pressure is compensating as a sign of nicotine withdrawal by not getting enough nicotine from the patch, according to Harvard Medical School
- Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea are all reported side effects
- While it is OK to shower with a nicotine patch, some say it may fall off easily
Some complain about the habit of remembering to apply a new patch daily. Others feel embarrassed or self-conscious about the appearance of a nicotine patch, or attempting to cut back on cigarettes. It’s an awkward conversation you may not want to have with a friend or co-worker if they notice your patch. It may be something you’re not ready to talk about.
How many cigarettes in 21mg versus 42mg nicotine patch?
At the time of this writing, nicotine patch manufacturers do not produce a 42mg nicotine patch. However, clinical studies have been conducted to determine if 42mg of nicotine is more effective when used with smokeless tobacco users. The study calls for using two 21mg nicotine patches per day, applied at the same time.
If you smoke more than 15 cigarettes per day, it is recommended to start out with a 21 mg patch.
If you smoke between seven and 15 cigarettes per day, you could try a 14 mg patch to start off.
If you smoke fewer than seven cigarettes a day, it is suggested that you begin with a 7 mg patch.
On average, a one-pack-a-day smoker absorbs roughly 20 mg of nicotine. If you smoke two packs a day, you’d absorb approximately 40 mg of nicotine per day.
Some users have reported success with using more than one nicotine patch. Two 21mg patches can be combined and applied daily for 42mg of nicotine.
A recent study in Argentina actually had participants increase their nicotine patch dosage each week, resulting in up to 84 mg/day over 4 weeks. While the fifty smokers represents a very small sample size, the study concluded success with helping smokers quit. Nausea was the only cited adverse effect.
What works better, nicotine patch vs gum?
This really comes down to personal preference. It’s not really “nicotine patch vs gum, which is better”, it’s more, “what works best for you?”.
If you’re self-conscious about others seeing your nicotine patch, you may want to see if nicotine lozenges or another NRT will help you quit smoking.
If you’ve tried one of these NRTs on their own and weren’t successful, perhaps give both a try together and see if it works for you.
The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should not be construed as a substitute for, professional medical or health advice any subject matter. Please consult your physician regarding any medical treatment decisions.