Chewing gum is a fun pastime and distraction for many people, so researchers got the idea that it could work as a replacement for smoking. A lot of people chew gum when they’re trying to quit smoking because it provides oral gratification similar to a smoking habit. In the 1980s, a gum that contains nicotine was introduced and offered by prescription as a method to help people quit smoking.
Nicotine gum is a very hard gum that is packaged in individual foil packed containers. The gum contains either 2 or 4 mg of nicotine in each piece, which is approximately equal to the amount of nicotine in 1 to 2 cigarettes. Smokers who need to have their first cigarette within the first 30 minutes after waking up should start with the 4 mg dose of nicotine gum, while those who can wait 30 minutes or more after waking for a first cigarette can usually get by with the 2 mg dose.
The gum is chewed at least 15 minutes after eating or drinking. You chew the gum until it softens up and begins to get a peppery taste and tingling sensation. At that point, you’re supposed to put the piece between your gums and cheek, and leave it in place. When the gum starts to lose the tingling sensation, you can chew it again until that feeling comes back. You can repeat this cycle as many times as necessary for up to 30 minutes. The body can absorb the nicotine into the bloodstream after being held in place next to the cheek. Slightly less than the full amount of nicotine in each piece of gum is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Smokers can use nicotine gum as much as once an hour, up to a total of 24 pieces per day. In general, you should step down the dosage of nicotine gum by spacing out the intervals between pieces by an increasing number of hours over a period of several weeks. Nicotine gum is not considered safe for more than 12 weeks of use or by pregnant women.
Nicotine gum was initially introduced to the market as a prescription medication called Nicorette. This was actually the first pharmaceutical option to help with quitting smoking and its development started as early as the late 1960s. The product was then available in some countries in 1978 and in the U.S. shortly after. It was available by prescription only for many years, including in an eventual generic version, but then it was made available over the counter without a prescription.
Other nicotine replacement products that were similarly once available only by prescription but which are now available over the counter include nicotine lozenges (available in generic and under the brand name Commit) and nicotine inhalers.
Industry-funded studies showed that the use of nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum could reduce the cravings for a cigarette for up to 24 hours, although some other independent studies showed that additional support systems were needed in addition to use of nicotine replacement therapy to successfully quit smoking.
Nicotine gum may be fun to chew, but it’s still a medication that was once available only by prescription. As such, it can have many potential side effects. Fortunately, although you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of side effects, they can be minimized by careful use of the medication. Chewing nicotine gum too fast or “chain chewing” – having one piece immediately after another – can dramatically increase the risk of side effects. But by avoiding these actions, you may not experience as many side effects.
Some of the most common side effects associated with nicotine gum include the following:
- Mouth, jaw or tooth discomfort
- Rapid or pounding heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Blisters or sores in the mouth
Long-Term Health Risks
Because nicotine gum and other nicotine replacement products are medications, they can have serious effects. The most serious risk from using nicotine replacement products is accidental overdose or nicotine poisoning. When this happens, it most often does so because people are doubling up and using nicotine replacement medication while also continuing to smoke. Nicotine replacement products are intended only to be used alone and to provide a substitute for the addiction to nicotine. Symptoms of nicotine overdose or poisoning include respiratory distress, seizures and even death. Children are also at risk of nicotine poisoning if they find nicotine gum, particularly because of its similarity to other non-toxic forms of gum.
Even normal use of nicotine gum per the package directions can cause some health risks. Long term use of nicotine gum can cause muscle weakness in the throat and lead to chronic hiccups, a feeling like the throat is closing up and irritation. Nicotine in any form can also lead to a greater risk of heart disease, and may contribute to throat, mouth and esophageal cancers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and stroke.
Women who are pregnant should not use nicotine gum because it may cause an increased risk of birth defects, particularly when it’s used in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Pregnant women should ask their doctors about safer methods to help quit smoking.
Nicotine gum can be an effective tool in your total arsenal of options to help you quit smoking. However, it’s very important to follow the instructions about how to use these powerful medications properly to make sure they’re used safely and appropriately.
Summing It Up
Nicotine gum seems great at first, you're able to get the nicotine without the terrible things involved with cigarettes. But then your gums start to recede, your breath smells bad all the time, and you have very strange digestive issues. It is certainly a possibility if you plan to do the actual weaning off program, but if you just switch addictions than it could cause health problems in the future.
Some alternatives that we would certainly recommend are the Nicoderm Patch and vapor cigarettes. These are the nicotine replacement therapy products with the least risk and the highest success rate. Good luck!