What are Nicotine Patches?
A nicotine patch is an adhesive patch worn on the skin. It works by slowly releasing nicotine through the skin, to replace some of the nicotine you’d normally get from smoking.
While there are different brands of nicotine patches available, they fall into two main types:
- 24-hour nicotine patch: Available in 21mg, 14mg and 7mg strength
- 16-hour nicotine patch: Available in 25mg, 15mg and 10mg strength
Both patch types are equally effective.
If you’re going to start using nicotine patches from your quit date:
- Start on the highest strength patches (25mg/16-hour or 21mg/24-hour patch) if you smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day
- Start on the 15mg/16-hour or 14mg/24-hour patch if you smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day or weigh less than 45kg
Nicotine patches take a few hours to build up to an effective dose, but the exact time can vary from person to person.
How to Use Nicotine Patches to Quit Smoking
You can either start using nicotine patches on the day you quit smoking, or from two weeks before your quit date if you’re going to cut down to quit.
For both methods:
1. Use one nicotine patch per day
2. Apply to clean, dry skin with minimal hair and fat, such as your arm or upper body
3. Choose a different part of your skin each day to avoid a rash
You need to use nicotine patches correctly for them to be effective in helping you quit smoking.
Reducing to Quit with Nicotine Patches (Pre-Quit)
If you smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day and are keen to quit, but aren’t quite ready to stop abruptly in the next few days, this method could be for you.
Use a 21mg or 25mg nicotine patch for two weeks leading up to your quit date, during which time you reduce your smoking in preparation for quitting.
This way, you are getting some of your nicotine from smoking and some from your patch, which should make it easier to cut down by avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Plus, you get into the practice of not smoking at certain times, which can build confidence and motivation.
When using a nicotine patch for assistance, research has shown that people can reduce smoking significantly – by 50% or more – before their quit day.
How to reduce to quit with nicotine patches:
1. Set your quit date for 2 weeks’ time.
2. Follow the standard steps for using nicotine patches (see above), using a 21mg or 25mg patch. You should be able to start reducing your smoking without too much effort.
3. Stop smoking on your quit date. This commitment is important, as it can be easy to delay.
4. Follow the guidelines on the consumer information sheet that comes with your patch to see how long you can use the patch for after your quit date. While all brands are slightly different, you can usually use patches for another 8-12 weeks.
Nicotine Patches: FAQs
Can I use other forms of NRT with nicotine patches?
Yes, you can normally add an oral NRT product at any time after your quit date if cravings still persist with the patch. Find out more about NRT combination therapy.
Should I apply my patch in the morning or at night?
With a 24-hour nicotine patch, the nicotine dose stays at an effective level until a new patch is applied. You can either apply your patch in the morning or just before going to bed.
The advantage of applying the patch before bed is that nicotine builds up to an effective dose before you wake, which is useful if you normally smoke when you get up. The disadvantage is that you may have trouble sleeping or experience nightmares by wearing a patch overnight.
If the 24-hour patch affects your sleep, try taking it off before going to bed, or try the 16-hour patch. If you get strong cravings when you wake, using an oral NRT product as well can really help. Find out more about NRT combination therapy.
You may need to trial a few different application times to see what works best for you.
How long should I use nicotine patches for?
In general, it is recommended you use the nicotine patch for 8-12 weeks after quitting. You can start to reduce patch strength after 6 weeks, but many people find that staying on the higher strength for 8 weeks or longer is beneficial.
Regular use of nicotine patches beyond one year is not recommended and for most people using the patch for more than 8-12 weeks does not provide any additional benefit.
Side Effects of Nicotine Patches
Very few people experience unwanted side effects when using nicotine patches.
However, nicotine patch side effects may include a skin reaction or rash, pain or tenderness where the patch is applied, and sleeping difficulties (which may be due to overnight patch use or the increased effect of caffeine).
Although rare, nausea may occur, especially if you use a higher nicotine patch dose than recommended.
Consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms that may be related to NRT.