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Do nicotine replacement products work? Expert answers to your stop smoking questions

Person breaking a cigarette in half

Deciding to quit smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, but the prospect of dealing with nicotine withdrawal and other effects can be daunting.  Emilie Serano, an advanced practice nurse in smoking cessation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute provides practical, evidence-based answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about quitting smoking.

Emilie Serano
Quit-smoking expert Emilie Serano at The Ottawa Hospital answers frequently asked questions about nicotine replacement products and quitting for good.

Remember, The Ottawa Hospital has several smoking cessation programs for both patients and people in the community to support you.

What makes nicotine so addictive?

Nicotine is so addictive in tobacco because of how fast it hits your brain and how powerful that hit is.

As soon as nicotine is absorbed in your lungs, your brain releases neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) such as dopamine into your brain within about ten seconds.

Do nicotine replacement products work?

Nicotine replacement products like gums, lozenges, inhalers, patches and sprays can be effective tools to help people stop smoking, but they do not act instantly, as nicotine does.

ProductTime to take effect
Gum2 to 5 minutes
Lozenge2 to 5 minutes
Inhaler2 to 5 minutes
Patch1 to 2 hours
Spray1 minute

Talk to your smoking cessation counsellor about what nicotine replacement product might be right for you.

Aren’t nicotine patches harmful?

No. Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in a cigarette, but it does not cause cancer, lung damage or heart disease. The harm from smoking comes from the thousands of chemicals contained in cigarette smoke.

Can I get addicted to nicotine replacement products?

A lot of people shy away from nicotine gums, inhalers, patches and sprays out of fear that they are themselves addictive. These products are absorbed through the mouth or skin—not the lungs, meaning that the absorption is much slower. So your risk of addiction is much lower.

I’m sick in the hospital.  Does it really matter if I quit now?

Definitely. Whether you’ve been smoking your whole adult life, or have just been diagnosed with cancer, it is worth quitting because you can start to see improvements in your health within eight hours of your last cigarette.

Quitting smoking can:

  • Prevent you from having to be readmitted to the hospital.
  • Prevent infections.
  • Prevent you from having to use an oxygen tank.

There are no guarantees, but by quitting smoking, you are stopping any damage that continuing to smoke could cause. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what condition your health is in. It’s never too late to quit.

What happens when I quit smoking?

Good thigs happen in eight hours after your last cigarette, and continue to benefit you years into the future.

The benefits of quitting

What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?

Nicotine is a powerfully addictive chemical, so your body will most likely feel uncomfortable when it does not get as much nicotine as it’s used to.  Here are some symptoms of nicotine withdrawal:

  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling irritable or grouchy
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling depressed
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping

Medication or natural supplements such as nicotine replacement products will help lessen the withdrawal symptoms, which will make you more comfortable and make it easier to reduce or quit. 

I’ve tried quitting before and failed.  Why should I try again?

Try to reframe the way you think about your “failures.” They’re more like trial runs. The more times you try to quit smoking, the more likely you are to quit for good. Every time you try, you learn something new about yourself, and you bring that knowledge forward to your next attempt. It’s like adding a new piece to a puzzle.  Eventually all the pieces will be in place. 

Do I have to quit cold turkey?

No. Setting a quit date can be a big barrier for a lot of people. Many people rebel against this idea and think to themselves, ‘Well, I can’t see myself quitting in the next year, so I’m not even going to try.’ Or ‘I don’t want to fail again.’ The more pressure on a particular date, the more stress you’ll feel and the more likely you’ll be to reach for a cigarette to manage that stress.

A more gradual approach is often more realistic. If you feel a craving, try the four “D”s:

  • Delay: Try to wait 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Distract: Do something you enjoy to keep your mind off smoking.
  • Drink water: A glass of water can offer a healthy distraction and can help you feel satisfied.
  • Deep breathing: This can help reduce your stress.

Over time, your brain will no longer associate certain patterns with smoking, helping you quit for good.

Why else should I quit smoking?

In addition to improving your health, there are many other benefits to quitting smoking.  For example:

  • You’ll save money on cigarettes and tobacco products.
  • Your life and house insurance premiums may go down.
  • Smoking cigarettes will no longer control your life.
  • You won’t have to search for places that will let you smoke.
  • You’ll feel proud of yourself for overcoming something so challenging.

How can I support my loved one who wants to quit smoking?

The Smokers’ Helpline is a really good resource for family and friends who want to support their loved one on their smoking cessation journey.

I’ve seen well-meaning people try to micromanage their spouse’s smoking.  They have the best intentions, but resentment and stress levels may rise, which could result in a smoker turning to cigarettes to relieve the stress.

It’s important that people come up with a plan together so that there’s a balance: there’s enough motivation to keep the person going on their journey to quit, but not enough pressure or stress to make them want to give up.

If you’re not sure how to help, ask them what kind of support they need.

It’s never too late to quit, and you aren’t alone.

Contact a quit smoking program through The Ottawa Hospital or the Quit Smoking Program  at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for support.



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This website gives you common facts, advice and tips. Some of it may not apply to you. Please talk to your doctor, nurse or other health-care team member to see if this information will work for you. They can also answer your questions and concerns.