Craving control using nicotine replacement therapy in a teaching hospital

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Background:A period of hospitalisation is perhaps the longest period of enforced ‘temporary abstinence’ smokers have to endure and hence many crave during their admission. Cravings may result in patients' smoking on hospital premises. Nicotine replacement may reduce cravings, decrease smoking on hospital grounds and increase interest in quitting post-discharge.Aim:The aim of this study was to compare the efficacy of two nicotine formulations in controlling inpatient cravings and enthusiasm for quitting post-discharge.Methods:Inpatients who were smokers were randomised to nicotine patch or inhaler on alternating days. Patients selected their preferred formulation, which was then used for the duration of the hospital stay. Craving control and formulation preference were assessed by visual analogue scales (VAS), and interest in quitting on a 3-point scale. Abstinence was confirmed by exhaled breath CO monitoring.Results:Patches were preferred by 64% of the 367 subjects. Fewer patients went outside to smoke after either formulation (37% before, 5% after enrolment). Cravings were reduced by both nicotine formulations (mean VAS score fell from 7.5 to 1.7). Interest in quitting post-discharge increased. Estimated mean exposure to nicotine was 5 mg/day (inhaler), 15 mg/day (transdermal patch) compared with 30 mg/day (cigarettes) before hospitalisation.Conclusions:Many smokers crave and some smoke outside during a hospital admission. While the patch was the preferred formulation of nicotine replacement therapy, both were effective in reducing cravings, increasing motivation for quitting post-discharge and improving Hospital ‘image’ by reducing smoking on campus. Nicotine replacement therapy should be made available to inpatients in all hospitals and other places of enforced prolonged abstinence.

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