Smoking Solution Becoming Problem

Smokers trying to kick the habit can use all the help they can get. That often comes in the form of nicotine patches, lozenges and gums.

The product labels direct smokers not to use them longer than a few months. But, as The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports, it isn't always easy to stop using the nicotine products.

For instance, social worker Jeanne Hutchinson says she puffed away from the time she was a senior in high school until she was 40. Then she turned to nicotine gum to try to quit smoking.

"It took about three months," she told Senay. "And I still remember my last piece of gum at that time, and just cutting it, actually, in half, to save it -- and feeling the withdrawal of it."

Then, the pressures of returning to school for a master's degree triggered those nagging cravings.

"I went back to my old association of, 'Oh, I can't study and be alert and do all these research papers without my nicotine," Hutchinson says.

Instead of smoking, she got her fix from nicotine gum, and quickly found herself hooked, Senay says.

"I would go from doctor to doctor, and they very rightfully, after a few prescriptions were written, would say, 'Well you don't seem to be getting off this, Jeanne.' "

But, she ignored her doctors' advice, and after 12 years, was still addicted to the gum, despite the manufacturer's warnings.

Dr. Ken Strahs, a vice president of drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, told Senay, "We think the product should be used according to label directions for no longer than 12 weeks."

Strahs heads a division of the research and development team at GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Nicorette gum. "Nicotine addiction that comes from nicotine replacement therapy is extremely rare," he assets, "and in fact, only one or two percent of Nicorette users use it for more than a year."

That's a small percentage but, notes Senay, there are some health issues related to nicotine gum use.

"The typical problems with nicotine gum are hiccups, upset stomach, sometimes people's jaws ache just from chewing," points out Dr. Saul Shiffman, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Still, he says, "Someone who doesn't quit smoking, they have a 50/50 chance of dying as a result of smoking. In contrast, really we've not been able to document any harm due to using nicotine gum."

In Hutchinson's case, a smoking cessation clinic run by Joel Spitzer helped her finally give up chewing. She's a perfect example of why Spitzer discourages using nicotine gums and patches.

"These people." he says, "are in a moderate withdrawal process. They're never getting free of the effect of nicotine."

For all of his students, Spitzer advocates cold turkey as the only way to quit -- and it's worked for Hutchinson.

"I feel like I have my life back," she exclaims.