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What is a Nicotine Transdermal System?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A nicotine transdermal system is a stop smoking aid that gradually levels off the amount of nicotine the body requires by administering nicotine in decreasing amounts via skin patch. Such a program, and many are available over the counter, does depend upon people ceasing smoking while using the system. They aim to make this transition easier by providing the body with some nicotine in the first few weeks after smoking cessation. Using an entire nicotine transdermal system to quit can take several weeks as people gradually reduce nicotine amounts, which hopefully aids in lessening withdrawal symptoms. According to various studies, about 16% of patch users remain nonsmokers by the end of a year.

The first nicotine transdermal system kits became available in the 1990s, and they’re still widely used. They generally feature three levels of nicotine step-downs. Smokers who smoke a pack or more a day may begin by using 21 mg patches that they replace once every 24 hours. Depending on the kit, in two to four weeks, the amount of nicotine in the patches is replaced with a lower amount, usually 14 mg. Finally, after a few more weeks, patches drop down to 7 mg for several weeks prior to discontinuation.

Certainly, the nicotine transdermal system may be useful in calming physical cravings for nicotine, but these programs fail to address the psychological addiction to smoking or other nicotine use. This may still take a toll on many, explaining the relatively low success rate of the patch. Companies that offer these systems may have some help available with their program, but people interested in quitting should get some local support too, when possible. There are many stop smoking groups available in local communities and some companies also have programs for their employees that can be of use. Generally, the more support, the better a person’s chances in remaining smoke free.

Sometimes people fail in their efforts because the nicotine transdermal system can cause problems. Some people get extreme skin irritation or rashes from the patches, and they might consider another nicotine product like gum or lozenges instead. Patch use is also associated with vivid dreaming, and some people experience heavier side effects like panic, rapid heartbeat and perspiration. Patch use should never be combined with smoking. If a person really wants to cheat, for safety’s sake they should remove the patch at least two hours prior to having a cigarette.

Some doctors recommend combining several quit smoking methods. Some of the medications that have been found useful in smoking cessation could be used along with a nicotine transdermal system. People shouldn’t combine patch use with an additional nicotine replacement aid like lozenges or gum, as this could lead to nicotine overdose.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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