(CBS) For smokers who want to make the leap to quit, are nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) the way to go? A new study suggests therapies like the nicotine patch and gum may not be as effective as some smokers trying to quit might hope.
For the study, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts Boston followed 787 adult smokers in Massachusetts who had recently quit smoking. They asked whether the participants had used a nicotine replacement therapy - including nicotine patches, gum, inhalers or nasal sprays - to help them quit, and if they had, for how long. Participants were also asked if they had received help from a quit-smoking program, doctor, counselor or other professional.
What did the study show? Almost one third of quitters relapsed. And the relapse rate was the same for those who used nicotine therapies for more than six weeks and those who didn't - with or without professional counseling. Whether the participants were heavy or light smokers made no difference either on the therapies' effectiveness.
"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," study co-author Hillel Alpert, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School said in a written statement. He added that even though some earlier studies have found the therapies to be effective, those studies didn't always factor in the general population.
The study was published in the Jan. 9 online edition of Tobacco Control.
According to Greg Connolly, director of the center for global tobacco control at the Harvard School of Public Health, nicotine therapies are not meant to help smokers quit forever. They are "designed to treat withdrawal, which is a symptom that occurs from stopping to probably six months, and then it usually ends," he told CNN.
If nicotine therapies don't work, what does? Study co-author Dr. Lois Biener, a senior research fellow at the University of Massachusetts in Boston said in the statement that earlier studies have shown media campaigns, no smoking policies, and tobacco price increases are effective smoking cessation tactics for the general population.
Dr. Steven Schroeder, director of the smoking cessation program at the University of California, San Francisco, told WebMD the study is "a useful reminder that there are many ways to help smokers quit and we shouldn't over-emphasize nicotine replacement therapy."
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adult smoking rate decline and quitting rates have stalled in the past five years.