Will Nicotine Replacement Therapy Work for Me?

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One of the most common ways people attempt to stop smoking is with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). There’s a variety of choices, from patches to gums or even candies. There are also fake cigarettes that deliver a dose of nicotine, and some smokers go for a home-grown method of switching to smokeless tobacco. But until now, there wasn’t a way to predict who would find success with these methods and who was likely to fail.

Genetic difference cited

A report in Science Daily News now shows that there is a genetic difference between those who are able to quit on NRT and those who can’t. Interestingly, the same suite of genes that make a person likely to be a heavy smoker are also the ones that make NRT a good quitting strategy.

It is thought that genes “set” the amount of nicotine any particular person will need to meet their body’s cravings. This makes sense, because receptors for the drug are a result of genetic factors. This would parallel the ability to metabolize alcohol, so that you’d expect to see a variance across a population based on the gene-derived ability to remove alcohol from the system. So, just like we have people who can drink more before getting drunk, you get people who need to smoke more to get the effects of nicotine.

The more you smoke, the more likely NRT will help

At this stage, it isn’t possible to say for sure which patients will be best served by NRT – we don’t have the technology to tease out specific genes. However, the general rule will still be valuable: The more you smoke the more likely it is that NRT will help.

From the article:

"People with the high-risk genetic markers smoked an average of two years longer than those without these high-risk genes, and they were less likely to quit smoking without medication," says first author Li-Shiun Chen, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University. "The same gene variants can predict a person's response to smoking-cessation medication, and those with the high-risk genes are more likely to respond to the medication."

How much more likely? The study shows about three times more likely than the low-risk gene carriers.

Photo by John Nyboer

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