The patch - It has been the butt of comedian’s jokes for decades but it really is one of the most successful treatments for nicotine addiction. Studies show that you have a 50% better chance of quitting when using a transdermal patch than if you quit smoking cold turkey. What are the side effects from nicotine patches? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of nicotine therapy and see.
My roommate has currently been on the patch for six weeks now so some of the claims below are reinforced with recently observed data. She is diabetic, a one pack a day smoker for 38 years and this is her second attempt at giving up cigarettes. The first time that she tried to quit, she used nicotine gum as her aid for addictive nicotine withdrawal and it was ineffective.

Reasons you should quit smoking:

  • The price of cigarettes, with state and federal excise taxes included, exceeds $8 a pack in many states. For a heavy smoker, that’s $300 per month for your addiction habit.
  • Smoking is now banned in almost all public places including many city streets.
  • Smoking is not cool anymore. From a peak of 42% of the population smoking over 100 cigarettes a year in 1965, only 21% smoke that much in 2006.
  • Lung cancer rate is 50 times higher for smokers smoking a pack a day versus non-smokers.
  • Carbon monoxide is high in the blood of smokers causing lower blood oxygen levels and slower brain activity. 
  • Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema are much higher in smokers.
  • Your body will have lower antioxidant content due to all the damaged blood cells being repaired. Lower antioxidant levels mean a higher risk for all kinds of cancer.

transdermal patch

Popular methods to quit smoking:

  • Cold turkey - This is the traditional method using no chemical or psychological aids. It comes with all the withdrawal symptoms and a low 5-10% success rate for quitting. 
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy - The transdermal patch, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges allow a nicotine delivery system other than lighting a cigarette, to help with the withdrawal issues.
  • E-Cigarettes - This is a controversial electronic method to nebulize a liquid into a vapor for inhalation to mimic a real cigarette experience. They even look like a cigarette in appearance. The chosen liquid may or may not have nicotine in it. Studies are indeterminate as to whether this method is really effective.
  • Hypnosis - It is claimed as a common method to help cure smoking, obesity and sexual dysfunction. You still get physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Yoga - This aid has been popularized by hollywood stars to help cure smoking. Any way to improve the discipline of the mind, such as yoga, will improve your will power for any life change you might want to make but it also doesn’t address the physical withdrawal issues.


Pros of using the nicotine patch:

  • 50% improvement in success rate has been seen in beating nicotine addiction when using the patch versus nicotine gum.
  • There is no carbon monoxide or tar inhalation when using the patch.
  • Patches cost a fraction of what cigarettes do, about $15-20 per week for patches versus $56 per week for seven packs of cigarettes.
  • You only have to apply the cure once a day.
  • They come in 21 mg, 14 mg and 7 mg strengths for easing off the patch gradually over a six week period.
  • You have greatly reduced cravings, anxiety and depression throughout the quitting process.
  • The patch continuously releases a consistent amount of nicotine into the body as opposed to nicotine gum or lozenges that are used sporadically.
  • Transdermal patches are less likely to create their own long term addiction. Nicotine gum has turned into a replacement addiction for some.
  • Blood oxygen level will improves dramatically after a few weeks on the patch. For my roommate I measured 96% oxygen saturation at 96 bpm heart rate after six weeks on the patch versus 94% oxygen saturation at 107 bpm before she quit. The higher heart rate before quitting was the body compensating to increase the oxygen level.

Cons of using the nicotine patch:

  • The patches don’t always stick well. My roommate wasted 2-3 patches that fell off in the middle of the day before finding the driest least flexed body locations. Some suggest using first aid tape to hold them on more reliably.
  • Patches leave red itchy spots on many users and finding 42 different locations for six weeks worth of patch treatments is challenging. After a few weeks, old patch locations seems to be healed enough to use over, however. Skin irritation will vary by individual. 
  • Patches raise the metabolism causing vivid and often disturbing dreams. Some readers may think this should go in the pro column. It seems like the patch has not only nicotine but also some kind of stimulant to fight depression, based on this effect. My roommate has these every night, but they haven’t ever caused her to wake up as a bad nightmare.
  • Patches affect glucose levels for diabetics. Careful monitoring of blood sugar levels must be done to prevent hypoglycemia. Weaning off nicotine completely also will affect insulin effectiveness, compared to smoking.  Therefore, this will be a two step process - one change in insulin dosage when you start using the patch and a second change when quitting the patch completely. 
  • Patches seem to cost the same for all strengths, yet are only physically different in size. The 14 mg is !54 the size of the 21 mg version, suggesting that they are the same potency per square inch.  They are likely made on the same assembly line, just cut differently. I sense some price gouging here, because of that. Also, based on the way the peel off backing works, you simply can’t cut a 21 mg patch down to size to create several 7 mg versions for your last two weeks of treatment.

General warnings for those about to quit smoking:

It’s very typical to gain 10 lbs of weight from improved metabolism and reduced nausea while you are quitting, regardless of the method. Most people level off after gaining 10 lbs. You can deal with dieting in a few months, if the weight gain bothers you. It is best to focus on the main problem at hand.

The psychological addition from smoking is a serious concern by itself and the transdermal patch will not directly help with this. This is one reason hypnosis and yoga are used as methods to fight the cravings in your head. A more effective method is to seek out a support group or a friend that has quit and will be willing to talk at anytime of the day or night. Consider an online group such as nicotine-anonymous as one option.