Quit smoking medicines are much safer than smoking

Man inspecting the nicotine patch on his arm.

All the quit-smoking medicines approved by the FDA have a long track record showing that they work and are safe to use. Despite this, some people still worry about their safety. Let’s talk about some of the concerns you might have.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy is safe to use.

Quit-smoking medicines containing nicotine (NRTs) do not cause death and diseases like cigarettes do. Most of the dangers of smoking are due to the hundreds of toxic chemicals in the cigarette smoke, not the nicotine.

  • Using a nicotine medicine will not cause cancer like smoking.
  • Using a nicotine medicine will not cause lung disease like smoking.
  • Using a nicotine medicine is much less likely to cause heart disease than continued smoking.
  • If you continue to smoke instead of using NRT, you will still be exposed to the hundreds of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke. These chemicals include nitrosamines, which are formed by growing, curing, and burning tobacco. Nitrosamines cause many kinds of cancer and are found in cigarette smoke but NOT in NRT.

NRT is much less addictive than cigarettes while still helping decrease your urge to smoke.

  • Cigarettes are designed to get nicotine to your brain fast—as fast as 7 seconds! This can feel good and makes cigarettes hard to give up. NRT delivers less nicotine to your brain and much more slowly. This gives you a safe way to get used to not having so much nicotine from cigarettes around in your brain.

NRT reduces the uncomfortable feelings you get from nicotine withdrawal.

  • The nicotine in tobacco changes how your brain works and makes it seem like you need nicotine just to feel okay. When you don’t smoke for a while, you may feel irritable, have trouble concentrating, or have difficulty sleeping. Using NRT helps with these problems, which can help you quit smoking for good.

Using NRT to quit smoking is usually temporary, generally recommended for 8 to 12 weeks.

  • If you keep smoking instead, you will be exposed to the hundreds of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke for much longer. The fact that NRT is used for a shorter time compared with continuing to smoke helps make NRT much safer than smoking. Plan on using NRT for at least 6 to 8 weeks. Stopping NRT too soon is a common mistake people make.

NRTs usually only cause minor side-effects such as skin rash with the patch, or upset stomach with the gum or lozenge. You do not usually need to stop a medicine because of a minor side-effect. Talk to your doctor if side-effects are more severe. There are a few special situations when NRT should not be used or must be used with caution after talking with your doctor.

Doctor consulting pregnant patient
  • Pregnant women are encouraged to try to quit without medicines because nicotine may have effects on the developing baby. But if this doesn’t work, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional about whether it is OK to use NRT. It is very important to quit smoking as soon as possible when pregnant.
  • People who have had a heart attack in the last 2 weeks or have serious heart problems or chest pain should talk to their doctor before using NRT.
  • You can also talk to your doctor if you have a medical condition or take a medication you think might affect your use of NRT.
Quit-smoking pills (varenicline or bupropion) are much safer than smoking.
quit-smoking pill medicines

Using either of the quit-smoking pill medicines is much safer than continuing to smoke.

  • There is no evidence that quit-smoking pills cause cancer or lung disease.
  • Using varenicline is recommended for 3 to 6 months. Bupropion is recommended for up to 3 months. If you keep smoking, you will keep getting exposed to the hundreds of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke. Quit-smoking pills are used for a short time compared to continuing to smoke.

You will need to talk to a doctor to get varenicline or bupropion because you’ll need a prescription.

  • Your doctor will review your medical history to help figure out if a prescription is right for you, which medicine to use, and how to use it safely. For example, you may be asked if you have depression, heart disease, epilepsy, or other chronic health conditions.

More information is available about precautions and side-effects for vareniclineexternal iconexternal icon and bupropionexternal iconexternal icon. Quit-smoking pills can cause some minor side-effects like nausea.