What follows are the words of a 44 year-old woman addicted to Nicorette gum. "Originally I took it to quit smoking. I now have a major addiction to Nicorette, severe hair loss (have lost over 50% of my hair), high blood pressure (for which I now have to take high strength medication), severe problems with teeth and jaw from constant chewing (had to have 2 teeth pulled out and enamel has eroded). Previously I had perfect blood pressure (120/80), my teeth were excellent (not even a filling), and I had beautiful thick curly hair!"
"Nicorette did help me to quit cigarettes initially," she writes but "I have been addicted to Nicorette chewing gum now for over 16 years!! My doctors cannot explain my severe hair loss or my extremely high blood pressure. My diet is healthy, I exercise regularly and all my blood tests show up fine. But after reading all of these entries I now understand what the problem is. It is the nicotine I am ingesting!! I chew 2mg x 10 pieces of Nicorette each and every day!! Sometimes more. Would I recommend this product? NO ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is very expensive, very addictive, and destroys your health!"
Nicorette Hair Loss Common
This woman's eyes were opened by reading 150 Nicorette user comments posted at AskAPatient.com. AskAPatient.com asks Nicorette nicotine gum users to fill out a form rating their Nicorette use satisfaction, why they were using it, the side effects experienced and any additional comments. All submissions are then displayed in summary fashion. This lady is not alone. Nearly a third of responding long-term Nicorette users expressed hair loss concerns.
A 40 year-old female Nicorette user for 2.4 years writes, "My hair for the last year has been falling out in clumps! My hairdresser found a bald spot 2 weeks ago. A shot of cortozone in my scalp where the bald spot is and it continues to fall out."
"I am very concerned about my hair loss as I used to have thick hair," writes a 39 year-old 2 year female user.
"Severe hair loss for about a year now has me wondering if the gum is causing this," writes a 48 year-old 3 year female user. "Started out with about 6 pieces a day, now chew about 15 pieces of 2mg per day. Probably more nicotine than when I smoked. The hair loss is really really upsetting, Mom had full head of hair as do brother and sister so don't think it is genetic."
I was "wondering if Nicorette has something to do with my recent hair thinning," writes a 1 year male Nicorette user. "I don't know why it would randomly start happening at age 28. There seems to be thinning in different areas, almost patchy thinning." "Does the numb feeling I get on the top of my head when taking Nicorette have something to do with the hair loss?"
A concerned 62 year-old 10 year female user reports "extreme hair loss." "Please anyone out there, does your hair ever come back or blood pressure return to normal if you quit chewing?"
Nicotine is a known vasoconstrictor of the body's extremities but the effects after smoking are normally rather short lived. Still, bloodflow in the fingers becomes so diminished that their temperature can reportedly drop up to 7 degrees. While a 1996 study suggests a link between smoking and hair loss in men, there was no link seen in smoking women. Nicotine gum use can result in more stable blood serum nicotine levels with slightly lower spikes yet higher troughs than seen with smoking. Ease of NRT use may also result in greater nicotine use and increased tolerance that may not have been seen in short-term smoking cessation studies. Could this result in hair loss? Don't expect such a study any time soon. Why? Because any researcher whose study findings significantly damage pharmaceutical industry nicotine gum, patch or lozenge profits will never receive industry funding of their research again.
Rashes, Reddening and Acne
One user reports bug bite like skin rashes that can last a few months on the face, neck or arms. Another reports an abdominal rash. A 38 year-old 13-month female chewer writes about "horrible acne - for the very first time in my life I have really really terrible skin. It is so embarrassing to be in your 30's and look worse than a teenager. It's definitely the gum. Within 24 hours of cutting down to a couple of pieces a day, my face looked better, and it cleared completely in less than a week... It's close to impossible to quit chewing this stuff."
A 51 year-old female who has used gum for 7 years reports hair loss and skin reddening. "I looked like I had a sunburn. I blamed it on menopause although I knew it's real cause." A 38 year-old 7 year male user reports "a nasty rash across my belly and sides over my ribs." "My rash is very troubling and is killing my social life."
Dentists Missing Tooth, Gum & Jaw Harms
In "1998 I noticed the back of my front teeth had a groove and were worn so thin that it looked like they might break in half. It ended up costing me $25,000 in reconstruction done on my upper teeth. I still did not realize that it was the gum that had created it," writes an 11 year user.
"My jaw is messed up. I can't open my mouth without extreme pain," writes a 24 year-old 1 year gum user.
"For the last couple of years dentists accused me of grinding my teeth, aka bruxism," wrote a 33 year-old 4 year user. "It turns out it is the stiff, tough chewing gum of Nicorette. It caused some serious trauma to my teeth. I have cracks in a couple teeth. I have exposed dentin. Many dentists don't have a clue. It first starts out that your teeth are sensitive at the base where the gum meets the teeth. Why? Imagine king kong shaking the empire state building... the windows on the bottom floors would burst first."
Common Nicotine Gum Use Symptoms
Common complaints among long-term nicotine gum users (one year or greater) include: addiction with intense gum cravings, anxiety, irritability, dizziness, headaches, nervousness, hiccups, ringing in the ears, chronic depression, headaches, heart burn, elevated blood pressure, a rapid or irregular heart beat, sleep disruption, tiredness, a lack of motivation, a heavy feeling, recessed, bleeding and diseased gums, diminished sense of taste, tooth enamel damage, tooth loss, jaw-joint pain and damage (TMJ), canker sores with white patches on the tongue or mouth, bad breath, dry mouth, sore or irritated throat, difficulty swallowing, swollen glands, bronchitis, stomach problems and pain, gastritis, severe bloating, belching, achy muscles and joints, pins and needles in arms and hands, uncontrollable foul smelling gas that lingers, a lack of energy, loss of sex drive, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, fecal impaction from dehydration, scalp tingling, hair loss, acne, facial reddening, chronic skin rashes and concerns about immune system suppression.
Other Health Concerns
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is not blind. It has seen industry commercials and knows that nicotine gum is now being marketed as both a great tasting supplement to smoking and a permanent stand-alone harm reduction solution. Sadly, this is being done without any meaningful long-term research regarding the consequences of long-term NRT use or the influence of harm reduction marketing in fostering youth nicotine addiction.
Recent studies raise a host of nicotine use concerns that most users will not notice until it’s too late. Researchers are concerned that nicotine is a super toxin that appears to destroy brain gray matter, prevent unhealthy cells throughout the body from dying natural deaths (apoptosis), promotes lung, breast and pancreatic cancer, hinders bone healing, induces angiogenesis which causes plaque build-up within arteries to harden, and that it accelerates tumor growth rates.
A 38 year-old user is worried about immune system suppression. "The last three to four months I have been sick with viruses and bacterial illnesses more than any time in my life." A 42 year-old 5 year male user believes the gum is responsible for a "lower white blood cell count." "I get sick all the time due to this." "My doctor always asked me 'do you smoke?' I tell him no. He says, 'you get bronchitis a lot'. Bottom line, the gum is no good for you. It will have long term effects."
And then there is an unexplained spleen rupture in a 40 year-old 10-year male user.
Addiction Most Distressing Side Effect
"The most distressing side effect is addiction," writes a 52 year-old ten-year Nicorette female user. "The expense is ridiculous and a total scam. What makes me think that some of the drug company's profit is going back to the tobacco companies?"
Her partnership suggestion is much closer to truth than she may realize. Have you ever noticed that never once have you heard a Nicorette commercial suggest that smoking is bad for you? Since about 1984 Nicorette's maker (then Dow Chemical) has had an agreement with the tobacco industry not to directly attack smoking or try to get all smokers to quit, but to only market Nicorette to those wanting to quit, without being anti-smoking when doing so (see documents evidencing agreement: 7/13/82, 7/7/84, 10/25/84, 12/17/84, 1/22/85, 9/4/85, 9/6/85, 9/6/85, 9/25/85, 12/16/85, 1/8/88, 5/8/91, 8/1/91 and 4/23/98).
This is essentially a non-compete marketing partnership that creates an artificial marketing climate which totally ignores the importance of why smokers need to quitting smoking. Its purpose is to protect tobacco industry sales. There is no denying that the pharmaceutical industry is actively engaged in protecting cigarette industry profits.
"I am addicted to Nicorette, maybe even more than when I was to smoking. Help," pleads a 10 year user. "Nicorette Gum is extremely additive," writes an 11 year user. "Totally addicted" claims a 53 year-old 9 year female user. "Severely addicted" says a 38 year-old 6 year male user. "I am addicted to the gum and the addiction is escalating," claims a 42 year-old 3 year female user.
"Me and my husband quit smoking about a year ago," writes a 24 year-old 1 year gum user. "Its really frustrating to know that we quit one addiction to begin another, which is not any cheaper. I swear its more addicting than cigarettes. I wont lie, we love the fruit chill flavor, and I’m so glad that we are no longer smoking. But I hate that despite my headaches and jaw pain, I still have to chew it."
"I now know getting off of Nicorette will be as hard as quitting smoking for me," writes a 36 year-old 12-year female user. A 32 year-old 3 year male user who chews 40-50 pieces a day thinks he may "chew more than anyone in the world." "There is one in my mouth 24/7 ... yes for real! I was addicted to heroin for 3 years and I can verify that this stuff takes the cake in what is the most addictive substance known to man."
Since 1984 Nicorette has assured users that risk of addiction is rare. "There is little risk of transferring nicotine dependence from tobacco onto the NRT product," Nicorette's 2000 website proclaimed. "That's because blood concentrations of nicotine peak more slowly and reach much lower levels than those achieved from cigarettes." While the graphs then presented evidenced higher peak nicotine concentrations from smoking they also showed higher average concentrations with nicotine gum.
But two 2003 studies would compel Nicorette to invent a new way to answer nicotine addiction concerns. The first, a March 2003 study, combined and averaged all over-the-counter nicotine patch and gum studies and found that only 7% of users were still not smoking at 6 months. Yes, a 93% relapse rate.
The second was a November 2003 study by the same lead authors. It had two important findings. It found that up to 6.7% of Nicorette gum quitters were still persistently using Nicorette gum 6 months after quitting smoking. Combining the results from the two studies raises the disturbing question, does any smoker break free of nicotine while still using it or do nearly all success stories remain hooked?
The second finding totally destroyed Nicorette's ability to argue that gum addiction is rare. Actual Nicorette store sales findings compelled researchers to admit that, "36.6% of current gum users are engaged in persistent use." Picture a steady stream of newly hooked gum quitters (6.7%) flowing into a larger lake of users hooked on the cure (then 36.6%).
The Frequently Asked Questions section of the 2006 version of the Nicorette website posed this question: "If nicotine is the problem, why should I use a nicotine gum?" The answer was that, "Nicorette doesn't contain any of the other addictive substances ... found in cigarettes. This is why Nicorette is safe enough to be sold without a doctor's prescription." The problem is that no addictive substance other than nicotine has yet been identified in tobacco.
"I'm addicted to it I can't stop," writes a 26 year-old five year female user. "I'm slowly poisoning myself. No one apart from my boyfriend believes me. Without it, I fall apart. I called the UK stop smoking helpline, they suggested it was psychological! Why do cigarettes in the UK carry warnings and the gum just have requires will power? Will power to quit smoking or to quit the gum? Am I supposed to start smoking again?"
"Nicorette is highly addictive," writes a 37 year-old 2 year female user. "More money and more health issues including sore throat and canker sores. Thank you Nicorette. You should be sued!"
Most advocating the nicotine gum and lozenge as cigarette harm reduction measures suggest that marketing pushing fruit, candy and coffee flavored Nicorette will have little or no impact in promoting youth and non-smoker nicotine addiction. Almost all national youth surveys continue to fail to ask youth and adults about NRT use. "I originally tried Nicorette because I was experiencing incredible daytime sleepiness in college," wrote a female user. "I became addicted which is unfortunate as I have never once even tried a cigarette. I have been using it for 4+ years. I wish it hadn't been available over-the-counter."
Some advocating NRT as a harm reduction measure suggest that dual use of both cigarettes and NRT is uncommon. A 54 year-old 5 year gum user appears to have spent the last two years mixing smoking with Nicorette. "The gum is more addicting than cigarettes. Now I am double-addicted. It is too easy to make excuses to oneself when its 'just gum!' Advice - don't try Nicorette."
A 44 year-old male chewer of twenty 2mg pieces a day for 10 years reports that he "started and stopped and smoked again, and started and stopped and smoked again, and started and stopped and smoked again. Finally, I decided that the ills of chewing could never be as fatal as smoking."
"My doc said it was fine to continuing chewing because it was less damaging than smoking. I now have severe TMJ, which has caused quite the bout with anxiety. I now have switched to the 2mg lozenges (to reduce the jaw damage) while I will try and quit nicotine replacement for ever," writes a 36 year-old male 5 year user.
Many websites are now advocating the nicotine gum and lozenge as smoking harm reduction measures. But try to locate where any of them try to help those who follow their advice after user symptoms teach them that living the cure can feel worse than the disease.
"I can not get off it and I am chewing 30 pieces of 2mg a day! It's awful and there should be more help to get off the gum," writes a 32 year-old 2 year female user. "There is no contact us button on the website and when you phone up they sound like you are the only one who has this problem."
Children Teased With Candy Flavored Nicorette
"Cinnamon Surge" Nicorette that's "coated for an intense rush of bold cinnamon flavor," "Fruit Chill" Nicorette that's "coated twice for an intense fruit flavor with a hint of mint," and new Cappuccino Nicorette are now moving into America’s schools.
"I think the flavored approach is to our detriment. Fruit chill and cinnamon make the stuff taste too good and I think the makers of Nicorette know that," writes a 37 year-old 3 year user. "I used Nicorette gum for 6 years, it is extremely addictive and expensive," writes a 50 year-old female. "The manufacture comes out with new flavors and keeps everyone hooked."
Limit Access to Nicotine Products
"Put it behind the counter, cover it with insurance, or make it unavailable. The drug company is breeding a whole new addiction just like their tobacco company compatriots," writes a 52 year-old 10 year female user.
I strongly suggest every pharmacy checks IDs since this is an over-the-counter drug," says a 30 year-old 1.5 year male user.
Hidden Long-Term Price
A 45 year-old ten year user writes, "I have tried asking the chemist staff about long term effects of using Nicorette and there doesn't appear to be any data on this."
She's correct. It will never be in pharmaceutical industry’s economic interests to conduct research showing the scope and gravity of nicotine’s harms.
"I am embarrassed to post this, but I started Nicorette when it first came out over 20 years ago," writes a 42 year-old female who has chewed for 22 years. "At the time, it was by prescription only and my co-pay was $5! I have been addicted to this gum longer than I ever smoked cigarettes. I do not recommend anyone to start it Not only is it extremely expensive now, but it is EXTREMELY ADDICTING!!!"
Last updated December 1, 2008 at 1131 EST
Learn More About Nicotine Cessation
- WhyQuit.com - the Internet's oldest forum devoted to the art, science and psychology of cold turkey quitting, the quitting method used by 80 to 90% of all long-term successful quitters.
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- Ask Joel - Email your quit smoking question to Joel Spitzer.
- Nicotine Cessation Tips - an 8 page PDF tips guide.
- Freedom from Tobacco - the Internet's only 100% nicotine-free quit smoking forum. Here, visitors will find 325,000 archived member posts indexed on 22 subject matter message boards.
- Nicotine Cessation Topic Index - an alphabetical subject matter index to hundreds of nicotine cessation support group discussions at Freedom from Tobacco.