Knowledge Article

STOP SMOKING with Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Gita Anjali Shah, Clinical Pharmacist, UK and Guest Lecturer,
Clinical Pharmacist, UK and Guest Lecturer
Faculty of Pharmacy, Mahidol University
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Since 2014-07-27
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Shocking Statistics

According to the last Global Adult Tobacco Survey, which took place in Thailand in 2009, 27.2% of the population, which equates to 14.3 million adults, are tobacco users [1].

It is known that tobacco kills up to half of its users, which adds up to nearly 6 million people per year worldwide. Over 600,000 of these people die as a result of indirect contact with tobacco; that is, passive smoking. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that unless urgent action is taken, the annual global death toll from tobacco-related disease could rise to over 8 million by 2030. Low- and middle-income countries contribute to almost 80% of the one billion smokers in the world. [2].

It has been shown in studies that many people do not understand the harmful effects of tobacco use. The 2009 survey in China, for example, found that only 27% of smokers knew that smoking contributes to a stroke and only 38% of smokers knew that it contributes to coronary heart disease [2]. The published 2009 survey in Thailand does not go into this amount of detail, but does at least show that 97.3% of smoking adults believed that smoking causes serious illness [1].

Tobacco smoke has a huge adverse effect on health; 90% of lung cancers, 90% of COPD deaths and 25% of deaths due to heart disease are related to tobacco smoke [3].

The Effects of Smoking on the Lungs

Aside from cancers of the ororespiratory tract, death is caused, primarily, by tobacco smokers being predisposed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the more commonly used umbrella term for chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD is characterised by poorly reversible airflow obstruction and a continuous, exaggerated inflammatory response in the lungs, which is due to the toxic, irritant chemicals of smoking [3, 4, 5]. With time, this inflammatory response causes damaging changes in the lungs, both of a structural and physiological nature. The airways constrict and narrow due to smooth muscle hypertrophy and fibrosis in the bronchioles, which in turn, leads to mucus hypersecretion and cilia dysfunction [4, 5]. The latter two changes make clearing the lungs, hence breathing, very difficult. In addition to this, the alveolar walls are destroyed rendering the lungs less elastic, leading to collapsed airways during expiration, then air trapping and lung hyperinflation [3, 4, 5].

The typical symptoms of COPD are therefore characterised as a productive cough, wheezing and breathlessness that is worse in the mornings. As life goes on, the breathlessness becomes marked and can be debilitating for patients, significantly reducing their quality of life. Patients who develop the disease severely, need home oxygen and often cannot walk ten metres without the oxygen mask.

COPD is primarily managed with lifelong inhalers. Mucolytic capsules are also necessary for some patients. As the disease progresses, long term oxygen therapy may also become a necessity.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT can be used to reduce the withdrawal symptoms that occur when one stops smoking. The aim is to deter the person from having another cigarette, hence lessening the harmful effects of tobacco, by replacing nicotine in another form. A large scale multi-trial review [6] has found that NRT evidently provides a huge benefit to people who are trying to quit smoking; the rate of quitting smoking was increased by 50 – 70% when NRT was used, regardless of the situation [6].

There are many different forms of NRT: slow release trans-dermal patches (providing background systemic levels of nicotine), and more fast acting dosage forms such as the gum, nasal spray, oral spray, sublingual lozenges / tablets and the inhalator. Faster acting preparations are used to suppress cravings or whenever the urge to smoke occurs. It is interesting to note that no difference of effectiveness between the different dosage forms was found [6]. However, it was found that using the slow acting patch in combination with a faster acting form was of benefit to achieve success in quitting [6]. Behavioural support and monitoring through regular contact with healthcare professionals, however, is thought to largely contribute to overall success [7].

Advice on NRT Preparations

Use the following flow chart as a guide to quitting smoking. Please ask your local pharmacist / doctor for further advice on availability of preparation, pricing and personal specifications.

The British National Formulary 66 has been used as a source of information when compiling this flow chart.


  1. . GATS factsheet 2009 [3 June 2014]
  2. . Tobacco, factsheet no 339, updated May 2014, World Health Organisation [3 June 2014]
  3. Randall M and Neil KE (2003), Disease Management, London, Pharmaceutical Press
  4. MacNee W. (2006). ABC of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, British Medical Journal, 332(7751): 1202-1204
  5. Wise RA, (June 2013, last modified November 2013). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [Online] Available: [1 July 2014]
  6. Stead LF et al. (2008). Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation (review), The Cochrane Collaboration, published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Issue 3
  7. Moore D et al. (2009). Effectiveness and safety of nicotine replacement therapy assisted reduction to stop smoking: systemic review and meta-analysis, British Medical Journal, 338:b1024

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