Self Care Pharmacy Blog

Archive for the ‘Smoking Cessation’ Category


Electronic cigarettes: effective, or just the new “cool” sensation?

Monday, December 1st, 2014

By Samuel Tesfaye, Pharm.D. Student.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. despite lack of evidence regarding their safety.1 According to the National Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use in both the youth and adult population has nearly doubled from 2011-2012.2 Many smokers of conventional cigarettes are using e-cigarettes as an aid to help them quit smoking. Unlike conventional cigarettes that release smoke, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine through emission of a vapor.3 The vapor within the e-cigarettes is generated by heating a solution made up mostly of propylene glycol or glycerol.1

Several reasons support this increased popularity of e-cigarettes, especially among the youth. E-cigarettes can easily be carried around in the pocket and come in a variety of different flavors, which makes them appealing to the user.3 There is also a “coolness” associated with e-cigarette use likely arising from aggressive advertisement of e-cigarettes on national TV and other social media.3 The lack of the appealing qualities in other treatment methods, such as nicotine patches, offers little incentive for youths to use anything other than e-cigarettes.

Because e-cigarettes are relatively new products, research on the long-term health consequences of these products is lacking. Despite this limitation, a few of the studies conducted have indicated that substances contained in the e-cigarettes are harmful to the body. Propylene glycol, the main ingredient of e-cigarettes, is one example of these harmful substances. When propylene glycol is heated, it forms propylene oxide, which has been linked to respiratory irritation, central nervous system impairment, and even various types of cancer.1

A recent article in JAMA Pediatrics evaluated the benefit of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit.2 The researchers employed a cross-sectional analysis from the National Youth Tobacco Survey data (NYTS). The NYTS was conducted on a representative sample of US middle and high school students from all 50 states between 2011 and 2012. The number of students surveyed were 17, 353 in 2011 and 22, 529 in 2012. Respondents were asked a series of questions about their cigarette smoking habits and which product(s) they use (conventional, e-cigarette, or both). The researchers found that e-cigarette use did not discourage the use of conventional cigarettes. This suggests that e-cigarettes are not effective in helping smokers quit. Moreover, it was also found that e-cigarettes led to instances of nicotine addiction and an increased risk of switching to conventional cigarette smoking (for those who hadn’t used traditional cigarettes prior to e-cigarettes). This study is not without limitations, however. Because the survey was entirely self-reported, the information obtained may not be valid and accurate due to the fact that those who took the survey may not have been completely truthful. For instance, they may smoke more than what they reported. Additionally, their conclusion cannot be generalized to the general public because the sample only included middle and high school students.

Contrary to the findings in this article, one study has reported that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit. Some healthcare providers are even recommending e-cigarettes to their patients. A recent study conducted in North Carolina examined physician’s attitude toward the use of e-cigarettes.4 The researchers reported that over two thirds (67.2%) of the physicians indicated that e-cigarettes are a helpful tool for patients wanting to quit smoking.4 More surprisingly, 35.2% of physicians said that they have recommended them to their patients.4 This study tells us that e-cigarettes are gaining momentum not only among the public but also among health care providers.

Smokers wishing to quit have a variety of nicotine replacement therapy products from which to choose, including inhalers, lozenges, chewing gum, and nasal spray.7 Smokers can also use prescription medications such as bupriopion and varenicline, as these medications have been proven to be safe and effective.7 Maintaining a healthy support network is also one way smokers can quit smoking. Socializing with people, exercising, going to movies, and doing outdoor activities can help people quit smoking.8 Seeking professional counselling from a primary care physician or pharmacist might also help smokers quit smoking. Pharmacists can play a pivotal role in helping people quit smoking by providing patients with the health consequences of smoking and the benefits of quitting, as well as assisting the patient is selecting an appropriate nicotine replacement product. Given the number of number of smoking cessation options that have been proven safe and effective, until further research is conducted on the long-term consequences of e-cigarettes and their safety is established, I believe patients should refrain from using these products.

Do you think e-cigarettes might be an appropriate smoking-cessation aid for you, or someone you know who is wanting to quit smoking?


  1. Grana, R., Benowitz, N., & Glantz, S. A. (2014). E-cigarettes: A scientific review. Circulation, 129(19) 72-86.
  2. Dutra L, Glantz S. Electronic cigarettes and conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents: a cross-sectional study. JAMA Pediatrics [serial online]. July 2014;168(7):610-617. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 24, 2014.
  3. Trumbo C, Harper R. Use and Perception of Electronic Cigarettes Among College Students. Journal Of American College Health . April 2013;61(3):149-155. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 21, 2014.
  4. Kandra, K. L., Ranney, L. M., Lee, J. G., & Goldstein, A. O. (2014). Physicians’ attitudes and use of E-cigarettes as cessation devices, North Carolina, 2013. PloS One, 9(7).
  5. Pepper, J. K., McRee, A., & Gilkey, M. B. (2014). Healthcare providers’ beliefs and attitudes about electronic cigarettes and preventive counseling for adolescent patients. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54(6), 678-683.
  6. S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2014 October 21].
  7. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians [serial online]. May 2014;64(3):169-170. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 2, 2014.
  8. Glynn, T., & Manley, M. W. (1992). How to help your patients stop smoking: A manual for physicians.DIANE Publishing

Nicotine Patches Fail Most Pregnant Women

Friday, November 14th, 2014

By Kara Bobka, PharmD Student

In 2011, 10% of pregnant women reported smoking during the last trimester.1 Smoking during pregnancy can lead to miscarriages, premature births, placenta problems, birth defects, and infant death.1 The standard treatment for smoking cessation is behavioral therapy, like staying active or chewing gum, and support groups. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as over-the-counter nicotine patches, provides a way to help pregnant women achieve smoking cessation or stop smoking.2 Nicotine patches are applied directly to the skin, where they release a nicotine source that is then absorbed through the skin to decrease withdrawal symptoms for up to twenty-four hours.2,3 Yet, most recommend wearing the patch for sixteen-hours to give the body a break from nicotine and to decrease the potential for skin irritation.3

Patches fight symptoms of anxiety, cravings, irritability, restlessness, increased appetite, low mood, and poor concentration that are associated with smoking withdrawal. 3 However, two recent meta-analyses4,5 and one well-powered study6 showed that standard NRT doses (15 mg a day) are ineffective with pregnant women smokers when used for eight months or less. To address the effectiveness of NRT in pregnant smokers, a randomized, double blind, multicentre trial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) confirms nicotine patches are no more effective than placebo at increasing either smoking cessation rates or birth weights even when nicotine doses are adjusted to individuals and given at higher doses. 7  

 What They Did

Berlin et al. randomized 402 pregnant women smokers (≥5 cigarettes per day) from 23 French maternity wards to receive either nicotine or placebo patches.7 All were ≥18 years of age and between 9 and 20 weeks gestation.7 All had to have health insurance. 7 More so, participants were motivated to stop smoking.7

Participants were given a two-week grace period between their initial and first follow-up visit for a chance to either stop smoking or to reduce cigarette consumption (<5 per day) on their own.7 This was necessary because people must be asked to quit smoking before using NRTs.7 Pregnant women can only be prescribed NRTs if they are unable to stop alone.7 Failing to either quit or reduce cigarette use, patients were eligible to continue, where they set a quit date and began the study.7 Smoking cessation was monitored via monthly measurements of saliva nicotine levels.7

Therapy lasted from quit date to the end of pregnancy, where women were either given 16-hour delivery nicotine patches (10-15 mg), similar to those produced in the US, or an identical placebo manufactured specifically for the study.7 For those who received active patches, daily doses ranged between 10-30 mg and were adjusted based on initial saliva nicotine levels.7 Behavioral support was provided at each visit.7

Primary outcomes were complete smoking cessation (self reported and confirmed via spirometry-confirmed carbon monoxide levels ≤8ppm) and birth weight.7 Secondary outcomes were self-reported smoking abstinence and birth characteristics.7

 What They Found

Results demonstrated that 11 of 96 (5.5%) and 10 of 76 (5.1%) women in the nicotine patch and placebo patch groups, respectively, achieved complete smoking cessation (P=0.87).7 42% in the nicotine patch group and 37% in the placebo patch group decreased their consumption of cigarettes by half.7 After two weeks, 62% had smoked again.7 More so, the nicotine patch did not decrease tobacco cravings or withdrawal symptoms or the number of cigarettes smoked.7 Average birth weights of groups did not differ significantly.7 Yet, newborns of mothers who were able to quit had a notably higher birth weight than those who were unable to stop smoking.7

Study limitations included that the subjects were women who smoked at least five cigarettes a day. So, results are hard to generalize to other expecting smokers. More so, the treatment began after the first trimester. It may be more effective to begin treatment earlier since smoking abstinence before 15 weeks gestation has yielded comparable birth outcomes to those of non-smokers.8 Another study conducted in England showed NRT combinations to be effective versus single or no NRT use.9 Despite other findings and its limitations, this study shows a lack of effectiveness of NRTs in pregnant women smokers and thereby a lack of birth characteristics’ improvements.

 What To Tell Patients

Although NRT has been shown to help others quit smoking, its effects on pregnant women remain unclear.   Earlier treatment with NRT during pregnancy may be more beneficial, although no evidence is to suggest that at this point. So, the best way to achieve smoking cessation is via behavioral therapy and support.7

To stop smoking, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends five great behavioral therapies. These include: asking family and friends for support; developing a quit plan or joining a quit program; staying busy (Get active. Chew gum. Drink water.); avoiding smoking triggers (Toss cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays. Avoid caffeine.); and staying positive, yet vigilant.10 To successfully stop smoking, it takes time, but you can! So, reward yourself after the first 24 hours. You deserve it! Your baby will thank you!

If you smoked and wanted to quit, what actions would you take? Would you try a nicotine patch?


Bibliography and References Cited


  1. Tobacco use and pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Published August 5, 2014. Updated 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.
  2. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc. Nicotine Transdermal Patch. MedlinePlus: Trusted Health Information for You. Published June 13, 2013. Updated September 24, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.
  3. Nicorette® 16hr Invisipatch. Nicorette. Updated September 29, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.
  4. Coleman T, Chamberlain C, Cooper S, Leonardi-Bee J. Efficacy and safety of nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation in pregnancy: systemic review and meta-analysis. 2011;106(1): 52-61.
  5. Coleman T, Chamberlain C, Davey MA, Cooper SE, Leonardi-Bee J. Pharmacological Interventions for promoting smoking cessation during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;9:CD010078.
  6. Coleman T, Cooper S, Thornton JG, Grainge MJ, Watts K, Britton J, Lewis S. A Randomized Trial of Nicotine-Replacement Therapy Patches in Pregnancy. N Engl J Med. 2012;336:808-18.
  7. Berlin I, Grangé G, Jacob, N, Tanguy ML. Nicotine patches in pregnant smokers: randomized, placebo controlled, multicentre trial of efficacy. BMJ. 2014;348(1622):1-16.
  8. McCowan LM, Dekker GA, Chan E, Stewart A, Chappell LC, Hunter M, et al; SCOPE consortium. Spontaneous preterm birth and small for gestational age infants in women who stop smoking early in pregnancy: prospective cohort study. 2009;338:b1081.
  9. Brose LS, McEwen A, West R. Association between nicotine replacement therapy use in pregnancy and smoking cessation. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013;132:660-664.
  10. Tips From Former Smokers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated March 24, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.


Chew or Dip, Time to Quit

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

By Tyler Michael, PharmD Student

Smokeless tobacco use is on the decline in adults and children.1 This is not necessarily a time to celebrate for healthcare providers though. As the focus has been shifted away from the dangers of smokeless tobacco, some professionals have wrongfully started encouraging smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to smoking.1,2 Someone seeking to quit smoking or using any tobacco products should seek nicotine replacement therapy, Chantix, or a combination with education if they wish to quit smoking.3

An article recently published by the American Heart Association discusses the heart health effects of discontinuing smokeless tobacco use. The goal of the cohort study, which followed the patients for 4 years, was to track how cessation of smokeless tobacco affects heart health after a myocardial infarction (heart attack). According to the article the mortality rate per 1000 people is 9.7 for those who stopped using smokeless tobacco and 18.7 for those who continued using it.4 These numbers show that people who continue using smokeless tobacco after a heart attack are almost twice as likely to die within the next 4 years. Not only did stopping smokeless tobacco use lower cardiovascular disease risk, but also cancer mortality risk as well. This shows that quitting is very important to the health of those already at risk, and in no way could its use be a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.

Some limitations of this study are that it only followed those who already had a heart attack, so it cannot be applied to the risks of those who have not previously had a heart attack.4 There were no exclusion criteria for this study so a patient could have had a terminal illness or another reason for death that would influence this data. There was a selection bias that did not allow patients over the age of 75 into the study, meaning it cannot be applied to anyone over that age.4

This article agrees with the current standard that smokeless tobacco poses a health risk. Siddiqui et al. shows in there research that those who use smokeless tobacco have higher blood pressure and cholesterol than those who do not use smokeless tobacco.5 Smokeless tobacco may have lower mortality risk than those who smoke over 15 cigarettes a day, but still a much greater mortality rate than those who do not use tobacco at all.6

Based on this article and the other articles on the topic, it is evident that smokeless tobacco is not healthy, and should not be viewed as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. This article shows that smokeless tobacco use increases mortality risk and this research shows that it nearly doubles mortality risk in those who have already had a heart attack. I believe stopping use of all tobacco products is the safest route and nicotine replacement therapy can be used to help patients’ quit.3 Further research is needed to determine the best nicotine replacement therapy or smoking cessation medication in this population of patients with previous heart attack.

Stopping tobacco use is one of the best health decisions someone can make for themselves.  What method would you use to quit? If you have successfully quit, what worked for you?


References List


  1. Nelson D, Mowery P, Tomar S, Marcus S, Giovino G, Zhao L. Trends in Smokeless Tobacco Use  Among Adults and Adolescents in the United States. American Journal Of Public    Health [serial online]. May 2006;96(5):897-905. Available from: SPORTDiscus with  Full Text, Ipswich, MA.             Accessed October 1, 2014.
  2. Digard H, Proctor C, Kulasekaran A, Malmqvist U, Richter A. Determination of Nicotine Absorption  from Multiple Tobacco Products and Nicotine Gum. Nicotine & Tobacco Research [serial online]. January 2013;15(1):255-261. Available from: Consumer Health Complete – EBSCOhost,       Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 1, 2014.
  3. Heydari G, Masjedi M, Fadaizadeh L, et al. A Comparative Study on Tobacco Cessation Methods: A  Quantitative Systematic Review. International Journal Of Preventive Medicine [serial online]. June 2014;5(6):673-678. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed    November 2, 2014.
  4. Arefalk G, Hambreaus K, Lind L, Michaëlsson K, Lindahl B, Sundström J. Discontinuation of  Smokeless Tobacco and Mortality Risk after Myocardial Infarction. Circulation AHA. May 2014.  doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.007252
  5. Siddiqui S, Rana A, Singal S, Pandey D, Khan S. Assessment of Cardiovascular Risks of  Tobacco Chewers by Comparing it with Normal Human Beings. National Journal Of Physiology, Pharmacy & Pharmacology [serial online]. January 2014;4(1):76-79.   Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 2, 2014.
  6. Bolinder G, Alfredsson L, Englund A, De Faire U. Smokeless Tobacco Use and Increased Cardiovascular Mortality among Swedish Construction Workers. American Journal Of Public Health [serial online]. March 1994;84(3):399-404. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 2, 2014.