Teens Using, Misusing Nicotine Replacement Therapy
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Five percent of high school students in a survey said they have used nicotine patches or gum -- including some smokers and non-smokers who misuse the products, U.S. researchers reported Monday.
While the bulk of users said they were current or former smokers, some users of over-the-counter nicotine replacement products claimed they had never smoked -- a finding that suggests some kids are misusing the products, which are aimed at helping people kick their smoking habit.
Little has been known about how easily teens can get nicotine replacement products -- which, although they are available over-the-counter, carry labels recommending they not be sold to anyone younger than 18.
And information on whether teens use nicotine replacement appropriately has been "sparse," according to the study authors, led by Dr. Lisa M. Klesges of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
To investigate, the researchers surveyed more than 4,000 high school students in Memphis about smoking habits and use of nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT.
Overall, five percent said they had tried nicotine patches or gum, the researchers report in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Nearly 40 percent of former smokers said that they had tried NRT in order to quit smoking, as did more than a quarter of current smokers.
However, there were signs of NRT misuse, as well. Three-quarters of current smokers "endorsed" NRT use for reasons other than kicking the habit, including using the products when smoking is not an option. Some reported that they smoked and used NRT simultaneously.
In addition, the survey revealed that 18 percent of nicotine replacement users were not smokers.
Since NRT is deemed to have a "low abuse potential," it is not clear why kids who claimed they were non-smokers used the products, according to Dr. Karen C. Johnson, a co-author of the study.
"Perhaps they were just trying it out to see what would happen, or perhaps they were thinking about taking up smoking," Johnson said in an interview with Reuters Health.
"The fact is, we just don't know why they were using them, but we certainly would like to conduct future studies to find out," she added.
In other survey findings, half of the high school students said nicotine replacement therapies are "easy" to get.
Currently, NRT labeling indicates that the products are not intended for minors, and they have not been studied in adolescents, Johnson said.
However, the researcher added, teenage cigarette smokers who appear to be addicted to the habit "can be given nicotine replacement therapy if they want to quit, given that the harm from cigarette smoking is so great."
Still, noting the potential for NRT misuse and teens' easy access to the products, the study authors recommend monitoring and education programs to ensure that young smokers use the therapies correctly.
"In particular," they write, "health care guidelines and professional training may be needed to establish counseling programs to discourage inappropriate use of NRT and enhance the effectiveness of its use as a cessation aid in young smokers."