As smokers spend millions of dollars purchasing over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy, a Hunter researcher has revealed the treatments are of uncertain effectiveness when used alone.
Associate Professor Raoul Walsh from the Centre for Health Research and Psycho-oncology (CHeRP*) reviewed 12 studies relating to the effectiveness of over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy. He discovered that the results of the studies did not convincingly demonstrate that the therapy, when used alone without additional support, was effective in helping smokers to quit.
Associate Professor Walsh said his review revealed that the methods used in nicotine replacement therapy trials were very different from real life. Based on the results, people cannot make valid assumptions on the effectiveness of the therapies.
"Nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine gum, lozenges or patches, purchased at the local supermarket can be effective as part of an overall strategy to help people stop smoking. However we do not really know the long term success of over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy when used alone without additional support.
"Many smokers regard patches as magic bullets in their quest to stop smoking. This may be misleading because minimal support, such as medical advice or telephone counselling, in addition to the patches may be the necessary ingredients for achieving modest success rates."
Associate Professor Walsh said it was important that over-optimistic assumptions were not made about the effectiveness of the therapy when purchased over the counter."To gain realistic measures of success, future research must involve more innovative, rigorous controlled trials where nicotine dependence is adequately assessed."
Associate Professor Walsh's review findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. He hopes the review will result in education programs that emphasise the need for people to use over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy in conjunction with other strategies.
*CHeRP is a behavioural research unit jointly funded by Cancer Council NSW and the University of Newcastle. Its researchers work in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Public Health Research Program. Associate Professor Walsh's study was funded by Cancer Council NSW with support from the University of Newcastle and HMRI.
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.
Associate Professor Raoul Walsh is available for interview on Thursday 9 October 2008.