I was a heavy smoker for more than 30 years. After many attempts, I finally managed to kick the habit.
Trading One Addiction for Another?
Nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges can be useful tools when you are trying to beat a smoking addiction. However, for a growing number of ex-smokers, there is a risk of trading one addiction for another. The number of smokers who start using these products to quit cigarettes and then find themselves trapped in a new addiction is unknown, but it may be substantial.
Many packages say you should not use nicotine gum or lozenges for more than three months. The trouble is, once you are hooked, you are hooked. I know people who have been using these products for years and are as dependent on them as they were on cigarettes. I find it interesting that no formal studies have been done on the effects of long-term use of these products, and yet nicotine gum and lozenges are readily available over the counter in your local drugstore or supermarket. I also personally know people who have used them for years—many years—and have experienced stomach problems, high blood pressure, borderline glaucoma, and hair loss among other things. All of these problems disappear when they finally stop using the nicotine-replacement products.
In addition, there is growing evidence of a relationship between long-term use of nicotine gum and mouth and throat cancer. I think some real medical studies are definitely in order.
Quitting cigarettes is hard—very hard. I should know. I kicked the habit after more than 30 years and I did it with the help of a nicotine patch, and later nicotine gum. I have now been smoke-free for more than a decade, but not gum- and lozenge-free. It took me years to free myself from that addiction, and my experience is far from unique.
My Nicotine-Replacement Story
I had my last cigarette over a decade ago. I had managed to stop once for four years, but had a life crisis and bummed one cigarette. I couldn't believe that after four years, one cigarette could hurt, but it did. Within months I was back up to two packs a day, and a lot had changed.
For starters, the price of cigarettes had gone up dramatically and people were much less tolerant of smokers than they had been when I smoked before. The upshot was that after a year or so I started trying to quit again. I finally made it, going cold turkey with the help of the nicotine patch. I threw out all my cigarettes one night, slapped the patch on when I woke up the next morning, and that was it. After four weeks on the patch, weaning myself down from 21 mg to 14 mg of nicotine, I decided to switch toNicorette gum, figuring that I would taper off until I was using no nicotine replacement at all.
It didn't happen. Like any good addict, I stopped counting how many pieces of gum I chewed. I kept buying my supply and ignoring the fact that it was taking more and more of the substance to satisfy me. I consumed 10 or more of the 2 mg lozenges or pieces of nicotine gum a day. I grew to like the taste and looked forward to my lozenges the way I had once enjoyed cigarettes. I told myself that it was OK to keep using my lozenges because at least I wasn't smoking.
Now, I hasten to say that there are 4,000 substances in tobacco smoke that are not in the gum or the lozenges and most of them are poison and proven to be carcinogenic, but nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes and when you put it in a lozenge or piece of gum it is still an addictive substance. If you were a highly addicted cigarette smoker, you will be at high risk of becoming addicted to nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges.
That said, I must also admit that only with the help of nicotine replacement therapy was I able to get off cigarettes, so here is what I recommend for you if you are either a long-term user of nicotine gum or lozenges (more than three months) or a highly addicted smoker considering using nicotine replacement as a quitting aid.