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December 15, 2004

Free Nicotine Patches Increase Short-Term Smoking Quit Rates

Distributing free nicotine patches increased participation in a Maryland smoking cessation program and helped 27 percent more people stop smoking during the first six months after quitting, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Washington County Health Department. However, the study authors found that long-term quit rates were not affected by giving away patches at the beginning of the cessation program. The study is published in the December 2004 issue of Addictive Behaviors.

“Nicotine replacement therapy has really changed tobacco control efforts in a good way. It is clear that if smokers use nicotine replacement therapy longer, they have a better success rate,” said Anthony J. Alberg, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

The researchers completed the study from 1995-2003 at the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention in Washington County. They compared quit rates and abstinence from smoking before and after free nicotine patches were offered to smokers who participated in the “Stop Smoking for Life” program. During the program, study participants received six weeks of patches and four weeks of group counseling, free of charge.

The Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund Program financed the nicotine patches used in the study. After the researchers gave away nicotine patches, they saw a 37 percent increase in involvement in the smoking cessation program, indicating free patches attracted more people looking to stop smoking. They also reported a 27 percent increase in short-term quit rates.

Dr. Alberg explained that the ideal cessation program includes attending a counseling program, in addition to using pharmacotherapy products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. He said that, for those looking to quit smoking, it is also a good idea for them to discuss the best methods to quit with their doctor, who can also prescribe non-nicotine-based drugs to help cessation attempts.

“We know that no matter how long smokers have smoked, when they quit, it prolongs their lives. The message we’d like to get to people is that if smokers have thought of quitting, it is definitely worth trying because it can only improve their lives. The good news from our study is that offering free nicotine replacement patches attracts more participants to cessation programs and increases short-term quit rates, which are steps in the right direction,” said Dr. Alberg.

The study authors were supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging, National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Bloomberg School of Public Health co-authors include Ruth Stashefsky Margalit, Alyce Burke and Sandra C. Hoffman. Additional co-authors include Kimberly A. Rasch, Nell Stewart, Jo Ann Kline, Paula A. Ernst and Amy Avey with the Washington County Health Department.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or