Chewing gum is a surprisingly ancient human behaviour, dating back at least 6,000 years. The ancient greeks even chewed gum with antiseptic properties to freshen their breath!
In the 1980s, researchers came up with the clever idea that gum containing nicotine could help people quit smoking.
Nicotine gum is a type of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) — a group of products designed to provide you with a small amount of nicotine, without the tar and other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.
It’s a medically-proven way to help you quit smoking, by dealing with the physical side to your nicotine addiction. So, by continuing to receive low levels of nicotine after stopping smoking, cravings and withdrawal symptoms are significantly reduced, and people often find that this makes the quitting process a lot less challenging.
As a result, NRT is one of the most popular ways to quit , and nicotine gums are both commonly used and widely available as quit smoking aids.
What is nicotine gum?
Nicotine gum is an over-the-counter, medicated chewing gum that delivers a dose of nicotine orally. It’s intended to replace the nicotine that people would otherwise get from smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products.
While it contains the chemical responsible for the addictiveness of cigarettes, nicotine gum doesn’t include any of the other nasty substances. It’s also sugar-free.
It’s a scientifically tested product, and research shows that it can be very effective as a quit smoking aid. However, it’s important to note that the reasons for taking up smoking and maintaining the habit are complex, and the addiction to nicotine is only one part of the problem.
Experts therefore advise that nicotine gum should be used in conjunction with therapies that target the psychological factors associated with smoking, whether that’s through visiting a therapist, or using an evidence-based virtual therapy like the Quit Genius app.
Nicotine gum should be used in conjunction with therapies that target the psychological factors associated with smoking.
Who should use it?
If you have a nicotine addiction and are trying to either quit smoking or cut down on the amount of cigarettes you smoke, nicotine gum could help you on your way.
While all nicotine replacement therapy products (gums, patches, lozenges etc.) are equally as effective as each other, you may wish to go with a gum if your cravings are sudden, and you require immediate relief from your symptoms.
The act of chewing gum itself can also be a distraction from smoking, as it can satisfy the oral fixation that often results when you give up cigarettes.
Before starting nicotine gum therapy, you should visit your doctor or speak to your pharmacist to ensure that it’s suitable for you, and that you don’t have any health conditions which could be compromised by using these products. You’ll also need to inform your doctor or pharmacist of any medications you take, including non-prescription products like vitamin supplements.
It’s especially important that pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding seek medical advice before using nicotine gum, in order to check whether using this medication will have any adverse effects on your baby. This also applies to women who become pregnant during nicotine gum therapy.
How to use nicotine gum
Nicotine gums are available in two strengths. The specific nicotine dose that you require depends on the number of cigarettes you’re used to smoking.
The Quit Genius app contains a helpful quiz to decide what type and dose of gum would be most helpful to you. In general however, if you smoke less than 25 cigarettes per day, opt for the gums containing 2mg of nicotine and see how you get on. If you’re a heavy smoker, you may be better off starting with the 4mg gum.
You should wait at least 15 minutes after eating or drinking before using nicotine gum. Like regular gum, this product should be chewed, although there is a bit of a technique required to ensure a steady and complete release of nicotine.
How to use nicotine gum
Repeat this cycle until chewing no longer produces the tingling sensation, meaning that all the nicotine has been released. This can take up to around 30 minutes.
Take care not to swallow the gum and do not chew more than one piece at a time.
You can chew up to one piece of gum per hour, with a view to reduce the frequency of use as your smoking cessation program progresses. Do not use more than 24 pieces in a day.
If you miss a dose, do not use 2 pieces to make up for it. Either use a piece of gum as soon as you realise, or simply wait until the next dose is due.
How long do I use it for?
Start using nicotine gum on your quit day, at the time when you’d usually smoke your first cigarette.
Nicotine gum is a quit smoking aid, but it is not a long-term solution. Its purpose is to help you fight your addiction by making the process smoother and easier to sustain. While using these products, you’re still delivering a supply of nicotine into your bloodstream, so if you continue to use them indefinitely, you won’t be able to break the physical addiction to nicotine.
Instead, you’ll need to gradually wean yourself off nicotine gum, as both your body and your mind begin to adapt to being smoke-free.
When you start out using nicotine gum, you should keep track of the dates, and work by the following schedule:
During weeks 1-6: chew 1 piece of gum every 1-2 hours
During weeks 7-9: chew one piece of gum every 2-4 hours
During weeks 10-12: chew one piece of gum every 4 to 8 hours
Nicotine gum is a quit smoking aid, but it is not a long-term solution.
Nicotine gum is not designed for prolonged use and therefore shouldn’t be used for more than 12 weeks. If you feel that you are still struggling with nicotine withdrawal symptoms after the 12 week mark, seek help from a medical professional rather than continuing usage.
Although a far safer option than cigarettes, it’s important to remember that nicotine is addictive, and so it is possible to become heavily reliant on nicotine gum if you do not take care to prevent this from happening.
Tips to promote successful weaning (in addition to following the aforementioned schedule):
If you started out on 4mg nicotine gum, aim to reduce this to 2mg as you proceed through therapy.
Gradually reduce the amount of time that you spend chewing the gum (remember the more you chew, the more nicotine is released).
Consider replacing nicotine gum with regular chewing gum every now and then. Increase this over time.
As with most medications, some people may notice side effects when using nicotine gum.
Some side effects may include:
Aching of the jaw muscles
These symptoms are usually mild. However, if they are affecting your ability to sustain nicotine gum treatment, visit your doctor for further advice.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, discontinue use immediately and seek medical help:
Irregular heartbeat or increased heart rate
It’s very important to stick to the usage guidelines when taking these products, as if you take more than the recommended dose, you could be at risk of nicotine overdose. If you feel that you may have overdosed, seek medical help immediately. Symptoms include:
Ensure all nicotine gum is stored out of reach of children. Because these products appear similar to regular chewing gum, it can be easy for children to make the mistake of consuming them. If children do use nicotine gum, they are at risk of nicotine poisoning, so it’s vital to prevent this from occurring. If it does, seek medical help immediately.
Nicotine gum brand names
Quit Genius App + Gum
100 pieces (subscription available)
105 / 210 pieces
96 / 204 pieces
100 / 200 pieces
Includes therapy app
Note that the Quit Genius App + Gum combination is currently only available in the UK. You can learn more and purchase here.
Where to buy
Nicotine gum is an over-the-counter product, meaning you don’t need a prescription from your doctor in order to purchase it.
It’s available from pharmacies including high-street chains such as Boots and Lloyd’s Pharmacy, as well as all major supermarkets. Quit Genius nicotine gum can be ordered online and includes a free subscription to the award-winning Quit Genius therapy program (subscription options available).
Take home message
Nicotine gum is a scientifically proven quit smoking aid. As a medicated product, it works to replace the nicotine that people would otherwise get from cigarettes, reducing withdrawal symptoms and therefore decreasing the risk of relapse.
Although a very effective treatment, it only addresses the physical aspects of a smoking habit, and should therefore be used in combination with therapies that focus on the psychological factors contributing to your smoking habit.
Nicotine gum is not a permanent solution and should not be abused. It should be used in accordance with recommended guidelines, with the aim of gradually reducing usage over time, until the therapy period has ended and the product is no longer required.