Nicotine replacement therapy

Also known as NRT

Easy-to-read medicine information about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) – what it is, how to use NRT safely and possible side effects.

What is nicotine replacement therapy?

  • Nicotine replacement therapy helps you to give up smoking by relieving the desire to smoke.
  • When you give up smoking, your body will miss the effects of nicotine and you may have  symptoms such as irritability, frustration or anger,  restlessness, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, depression, increased hunger or weight gain, and craving for cigarettes.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy helps you to manage some of the withdrawal effects by providing your body with nicotine. It is usually used for 8-12 weeks but can be taken for a longer time if needed. 
  • You can start nicotine replacement therapy while you are smoking, to help you cut down on the number of cigarettes you are smoking and eventually quit.
  • Read more about how to quit smoking.

How do I choose the formulation that is suitable for me?

  • Discuss with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist which formulation is suitable for you.
  • This decision will depend on many factors such as the number of cigarettes you smoke a day, whether you smoke within the first hour of waking, and personal preference.
  • Not all nicotine formulations are subsidised – the gum, lozenges and some strengths of the patches are subsidised if supplied on prescription or via the Quit Card Programme. The mouth spray and inhalator can be purchase over the counter from supermarkets or pharmacies for the normal retail price.   
  • Most people need to use two different formulations to reduce the cravings for cigarettes.
  • Smoking can change how some medicines work. Talk to your doctor if you are taking regular medicines, the dose may need to change when you stop smoking.
  • If you have diabetes, your blood glucose may need to be checked more often when you start using nicotine replacement therapy.

How to use nicotine replacement therapy?

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Possible side effects

Like all medicines, nicotine replacement therapy can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. These may be similar to smoking withdrawal symptoms. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • These are quite common when you first start taking nicotine and usually go away with time.
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Tell your doctor if this is a concern

Learn more

Medsafe Consumer Information Sheets - consumer information sheet

New Zealand Formulary Patient Information Nicotine replacement therapy

For more information on quitting smoking - see Quitline NZ 

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 04 Jun 2017