Friday, February 10, 2012
Nicotine patches work if you take the short view
Here is another example of less than responsible journalism. Both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News report "Quit smoking: A new case for going cold turkey." Even NPR asked Do Nicotine Patches And Gum Help Smokers Quit?
Other reports similarly headline with questions regarding the effectiveness of the nicotine patch, which has been a tried and true treatment to help smokers quit. All these reports stem from a study done by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts in Boston and published online in the journal Tobacco Control, that found that over a 5-year period, former smokers who used nicotine-replacement products were just as likely to relapse as those who quit on their own.
This is indeed an important study because it shows that relapse rates are high, and nicotine patches may be insufficient to prevent quitters from relapsing. Indeed, other methods should be sought for recent quitters to prevent them from relapsing.
The problem with the way the media is reporting the study is that it is confusing quitting and relapse. Countless studies show that nicotine replacement about doubles the chance that you will successful quit, which is usually defined as not one cigarette for 12 weeks (though better studies use 52 weeks to define quitting). In this study, all the people studied had recently quit.
This study was not measuring whether or not the patch helped these folks quit, but whether people who had quit using the patch were any different than people who had quit without the patch in terms of relapse several years down the road.
People interested in quitting smoking should not be confused by the reports in the media. Nicotine replacement will help you quit. The evidence for using medication (nicotine, bupropion, varenicline) is so strong that the U.S. Surgeon General's guidelines recommends that all smokers (even those at risk to medication side effects such as heart patients and pregnant women) be offered some form of medication, since it is so effective.
Again, the study is an important one because it shows we need to look beyond nicotine replacement to prevent long-term relapse. However, the journalists who reported on this study shouldn't have suggested that smokers consider going cold turkey.
Matthew Mintz, MD, is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He is board certified in internal medicine and has been practicing for more than a decade. He is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients. This post originally appeared at Dr. Mintz' Blog. Conflict-of-interest disclosures are available here.
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Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
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Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
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Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
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Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
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