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What are Quit-Smoking Patches?

By Stacy Carey
Updated May 17, 2024
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Quit-smoking patches are thin sheets containing nicotine that are placed on the skin. These transepidermal patches deliver nicotine directly into the blood stream via the skin. The body slowly absorbs the nicotine at a consistent rate throughout the day and helps a smoker wean off of cigarettes without the traditionally harsh withdrawal symptoms. Patches typically include approximately 2/3 of the nicotine usually consumed through a traditional cigarette. Quit-smoking patches are usually available without a prescription in different strengths.

A quit-smoking patch can be a useful tool for those struggling with the process of smoking cessation. The steady rate of nicotine absorption with a quit-smoking patch does not provide the typical rush felt by traditional cigarette smoking. The levels do, however, lessen the effects of withdrawal and help people who are working through efforts to stop smoking. While the stop-smoking patches do continue to deliver moderate levels of nicotine, they contain no toxins such as carbon monoxide and tar that make traditional cigarettes harmful to health.

The stop-smoking patch system provides the opportunity to change patches over time, with each subsequent patch containing a slightly lower dose of nicotine. Eventually one is weaned completely from the nicotine, and the quit-smoking patches become unnecessary. People typically will use the patches for a period of three to five months, although some report success within approximately eight weeks.

The patches are generally available in 16-hour and 24-hour versions, so that one can tailor whether or not to deliver nicotine overnight. The 24-hour patch tends to have more side effects, however, such as disrupted sleep patterns and mild skin irritation. Side effects of the quit smoking patches vary by brand, the dose of nicotine contained in the patch, and one’s own skin sensitivity. The most common side effects are skin irritation, dizziness, headaches, nausea, sleep problems, and muscle aches. If these occur, one may want to try a different brand of the patch or discontinue the use of the patch.

Most brands of quit-smoking patches are available in a variety of strengths. Light-to-medium smokers may find success with a 16-hour patch, while heavy smokers may adjust better by using the 24-hour version. The full-strength patch typically delivers 15 to 22 milligrams of nicotine over four weeks. One should place the quit-smoking patch on a dry, clean area on the body that does not contain much hair. It is also important to choose a location above the waist but below the neck.

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