You know the old joke: “I’m great at quitting smoking: I’ve done it more than a dozen times!” That’s what I thought of when I saw the Harvard/UMass study earlier this week questioning the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on nicotine gum, patches and other forms of “nicotine replacement therapy.”
I caught up a bit late with Boston University School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel, a leading tobacco control researcher whom I’ve seen quoted in the Boston Globe dozens of times. So mea culpa for tardiness, but I still want to put his considered perspective on the record. Some of the coverage made it sound like the new study is just the latest salvo in a long debate over whether nicotine replacement therapy is worthwhile, but my impression from Prof. Siegel — who, granted, has long been a skeptic of nicotine replacement — is that this may be more of a game-changer.
His take on the study, lightly edited:
Strictly speaking, what this study looked at was smoking relapse. These were smokers who had quit, so from a strict perspective, this study can only conclude that nicotine replacement was not effective in helping prevent relapse.
However, when you think about it, the smoking cessation process almost always involves relapse, so in a sense, you can infer from the study that nicotine replacement is not effective for quitting because quitting involves being sustained. If you took a bunch of quitters at a given time and you wanted to predict whether they were going to sustain their quitting, those on nicotine replacement therapy were no more likely to sustain their quitting. I do think that this study does provide evidence that in general, nicotine replacement therapy is not effective for quitting.
Is this new, did we know this? Yes and no. Continue reading