Most people know that cigarettes contain nicotine, but many don't know what nicotine is or what it does. As a result, they may not want to use nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) to help them stop smoking. But the fact is, nicotine replacement is one of the best tools available for people who want to quit.
Don't let false ideas about nicotine stand in your way to better health. Get the facts.
Myth: Nicotine causes cancer.
Fact: Nicotine does not cause cancer. The toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke do. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, about 70 of them are known to cause cancer.
What nicotine does cause is addiction. Nicotine is a drug that is naturally present in tobacco. Many experts think it's as addictive as cocaine or heroin. When you smoke, nicotine enters your lungs. It gets absorbed in your bloodstream and reaches your brain in seconds. Once there, it causes the pleasant feelings that keep smokers lighting up. Being addicted to nicotine is what makes it so tough to quit. It's the reason most people keep smoking, even though they know it's bad for their health.
Myth: The nicotine in NRTs is as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes.
Fact: Nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine gum, lozenges, patches and nasal sprays have less nicotine than cigarettes. They release the drug slowly over time to help curb withdrawal symptoms. Research has shown that the risk of abuse or dependence using over-the-counter NRT products is very low.
Myth: I can quit smoking without using NRTs.
Fact: You probably can quit smoking without the help of NRTs. But most smokers who try to quit light up again — most of them within a week after quitting.
If you're like most smokers, you will most likely need help to quit for good. NRTs have a proven track record of success and can double your chances of quitting. In fact, your best bet may be to combine NRTs with a quit-smoking program or other support. Studies show that this combination ups your chance of succeeding. NRTs can help with your physical dependence on nicotine. Support can help with your emotional and mental dependence on the drug.
Myth: If I use NRTs, I won't have any withdrawal symptoms.
Fact: Nicotine replacement therapies can ease withdrawal symptoms. However, they probably won't stop them completely. When you stop smoking, you deprive your body of a drug it is used to getting. This causes withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling anxious, irritable, restless or depressed. Other symptoms include headaches, increased appetite and trouble concentrating or sleeping. These symptoms are why many people start smoking again.
For most people, withdrawal symptoms are strongest in the first week. Nicotine replacement therapies can help ease the symptoms and help you stay on the path of being smoke-free.
Lucy M. Casale contributed to this report.
Created on 12/06/2005
Updated on 08/21/2013
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Are there effective treatments for tobacco addiction?
- Smokefree.gov. Medications to help you quit.
- National Institutes of Health: National Cancer Institute. Harms of smoking and health benefits of quitting.