Nicotine patches may be helpful aids for easing nicotine cravings, but only if the person trying to quit is committed to creating a lifestyle without smoking.

The fact that smoking kills is no news flash. Terrifying Surgeon General's warnings have been mandatory for years (although in the U.S., where the trend began, the warning labels are some of the smallest in the world.)

In the UK, cigarette boxes bear warnings so large and horrible that they seem almost ludicrous, after a mandate from the E.U. that the warnings cover at least 30% of the box. Some of the labels read like this:

  • "Smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attacks and strokes."
  • "Smoking may reduce the blood flow and cause impotence."
  • "Smoking can cause a slow and painful death."
  • "Smoking can damage the sperm and decreases fertility."
  • "Smoking is highly addictive, don't start."

With labels this obvious, it should follow that people would stop smoking, shouldn't it? After all, no one would buy a soda if the label read, "This product contains poison and can cause a slow and painful death. Don't buy it." But it doesn't follow. Not only do people continue to pick up smoking, they don't stop when they get out of their teen years and realize that they neither look cool nor feel better with a cigarette in their hand. This has nothing to do with the person not "getting it" or not caring or believing that cigarettes are killers. It doesn't mean they don't care about their family or children or their personal life span. It has everything to do with nicotine being an addictive substance that still gets people to buy millions of packages of products that state in large letters, "This will almost certainly make your life worse."

It's also no news flash that nicotine is highly addictive. It's the reason the market is flooded with smoking cessation aids like nicotine patches and nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and nicotine inhalers. People who quit cold turkey are often successful, but most aren't on the first try. Only 3-5% succeed using will power alone, but for most quitters, will power alone isn't enough to kick the craving. (This should be a testament to the strength of a nicotine addiction, not a jab at the will power of the human race.)

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawals can include heightened feelings of stress and nervousness, depression, and weight gain. Coupled with strong cravings, we got quitting statistics that put successful quitting at the 7th to 15th attempt. This is why nicotine replacement aids can be so helpful - instead of being hit with all of the effects at once, gradually removing nicotine from one's system can make the symptoms more bearable and more possible to cope with.

Nicotine replacement therapy on its own is typically not enough to help a smoker to leave the habit behind. The most effective methods of quitting involve some kind of nicotine replacement medication and specialist behavioral support - support groups, therapists, help from friends and family, advice from a physician, motivational interviewing. The best thing a person who is trying to quit can do is to keep trying, and to take each relapse as a learning experience that takes him or her one step closer to breaking the addiction for good.