Using nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum, can help you manage cravings and gradually reduce nicotine intake.

Close up on a person's hands as they open a pack of nicotine gum. Share on Pinterest
AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Deciding to quit smoking can be a critical step toward better health, given the many health risks smoking typically poses.

Quitting smoking might be tough, but nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help manage your cravings and withdrawal, making it easier to experience a smoke-free life.

NRT includes several products designed to help you quit smoking by providing controlled, lower doses of nicotine without the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke.

Here are some key strategies for using NRT:

  • Choose the right product: Select the NRT product that aligns with your smoking habits and preferences. For example, nicotine gum or lozenges may be suitable for addressing sudden cravings if you smoke more frequently throughout the day, and nicotine patches can provide steady, long lasting doses.
  • Combine different forms: In some cases, combining multiple forms of NRT can be more effective. For instance, you might use a nicotine patch to maintain a baseline level of nicotine and lozenges or gum to address breakthrough cravings.
  • Gradual reduction: If you’re using NRT intending to quit nicotine altogether, consider a gradual reduction approach. Start with higher nicotine doses and taper down until you use lower doses or products without nicotine.
  • Get support: NRT can be more effective with counseling or support groups. Consider joining a smoking cessation program or getting professional guidance to address the psychological aspects of quitting.
  • Stay hydrated: Some NRT products, like gum, may cause dry mouth. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and relieve this side effect.
  • Track progress: Keep a journal to monitor your progress, including cravings, triggers, and the effectiveness of NRT. This can help you identify patterns and make necessary adjustments to your strategy.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember that change isn’t a linear process and that some days may be harder than others. Relapses may happen without ruining your progress.

While some NRT products, like nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches, are available over the counter, others, such as prescription-only nasal sprays and inhalers, require a doctor’s prescription. A doctor can also discuss your habits to help you choose the right NRT to quit.

Here are the main types of NRT:

  • Nicotine patch: This skin patch delivers a steady, controlled dose of nicotine throughout the day. You apply it to a clean, dry skin area, often on the upper arm or chest. Depending on the specific product, people may wear the patch for 16 or 24 hours, which can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Nicotine gum: Nicotine gum is a chewing gum infused with nicotine, which users chew to relieve cigarette cravings. The mouth’s lining absorbs nicotine. Over time, you can gradually reduce the nicotine gum pieces you use daily to wean yourself off nicotine.
  • Nicotine lozenge: Similar to nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges are designed to dissolve in the mouth. They release nicotine slowly, helping reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It’s a good idea for users to follow the recommended dosing schedule.
  • Nicotine inhaler: The nicotine inhaler is a device that allows users to inhale a vaporized form of nicotine. It mimics the hand-to-mouth action of smoking and delivers a controlled dose of nicotine. It’s a prescription product in some regions.
  • Nicotine nasal spray: This prescription product delivers nicotine as a fine mist through the nasal membranes. It provides rapid relief from cravings but may cause nasal irritation in some users.
  • Nicotine mouth spray: Similar to the nasal spray, the mouth spray delivers nicotine as a mist, but users can spray it into their mouths. Users spray it onto the inside of their cheeks or under the tongue, where the oral mucosa absorbs it.

Here are some frequently asked questions about NRT:

What is the most successful nicotine replacement therapy?

NRT success can vary from person to person, and what works well for one person may not work as well for another. In addition, the success of NRT often depends on factors like a person’s level of nicotine dependence, smoking habits, and commitment to quitting.

Several studies in a 2016 research review showed that the currently available nicotine replacement therapies may be equally effective in helping people quit smoking when compared with each other, and they also may have similar effectiveness when compared with bupropion, a smoking cessation medication.

What is the safest nicotine replacement?

Many experts generally consider NRTs safe when used as directed and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

What’s the best nicotine replacement therapy to use during pregnancy?

NRT use during pregnancy remains controversial due to its potential health effects on a fetus. Some experts encourage people to consider it a second-line option during pregnancy. The first-line approach is behavioral counseling and support.

However, other experts still consider NRT to be better than smoking cigarettes. So, if the only alternative is smoking, some studies in a review from 2022 suggested that faster-acting formulations of NRT, such as gum or lozenges, appear to be the safest and potentially least harmful to a fetus.

Overall, researchers say that NRT isn’t entirely without risks for a fetus and pregnant person. A careful evaluation of the potential risks and benefits is necessary.

Resources to help you quit

A doctor can help you find the right quitting tool for you and connect you with local support groups. is a free resource with tips and tricks and accountability programs.

You can also check out some of our other Healthline articles on quitting:

Was this helpful?

NRT can be a valuable tool for those trying to quit smoking. It may provide a safer way to manage withdrawal symptoms and gradually reduce nicotine dependence. NRT options vary, including gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers, and nasal sprays, allowing you to choose what suits you.

While people can purchase NRT over the counter, experts recommend consulting a healthcare professional for personalized guidance, especially during pregnancy or if you have underlying health conditions.