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Chewing Away Cravings with Nicotine Gum

Nicotine gum is a popular nicotine replacement therapy. Available over the counter, it is easy to use and provides regular, measured amounts of nicotine to the bloodstream. The gum is loaded with nicotine that's released slowly yet absorbed rapidly by the blood-rich mucous membranes of the mouth. As with the patch, the idea is to taper the amount of gum you chew over time until you no longer need it.

Nicotine gum (nicotine polacrilex) comes in 2 mg and 4 mg strengths. The manufacturer suggests that heavier smokers (25 or more cigarettes a day) and those who smoke first thing in the morning use the 4 mg pieces. If you smoke fewer than 25 cigarettes a day, use the 2 mg strength.

The original gum has a peppery flavor. (It now comes in orange flavor as well.) When the peppery taste becomes prominent, park the gum between your cheek and gums for a few minutes. When the peppery sensation is gone, you can begin chewing again. At that point, most or all of the nicotine has leached out of the gum, and you can discard the piece.

The manufacturer suggests that the gum squares be used as follows — see the package insert for details:

  • Stop smoking before beginning to use nicotine gum.
  • Don't have any food or drinks, especially acidic beverages like coffee, tea, juice, and soda, for at least 15 minutes before chewing, during chewing, and about 15 minutes after chewing. Some foods and beverages can absorb the nicotine from the gum and prevent it from getting into your system.
  • Don't chew the gum the same way you would chew Bazooka or Juicy Fruit. The idea is to chew it intermittently, letting the wad rest between your cheek and gums between chews. Doing so permits the nicotine in the gum to diffuse into the capillaries of your cheek and from there into your bloodstream.
  • Most people need up to 15 pieces a day to abate nicotine withdrawal symptoms. If you feel extra-strong cravings, you can chew an extra piece. Don't have more than 20 pieces in a 24-hour period.
  • Try to chew approximately the same amount of gum each day for one month. After a month, start to lower the number of pieces you chew each day by one piece a day. After approximately three months, you can stop using the gum altogether.
  • Keep in mind that you're chewing to avoid or reduce nicotine withdrawal. If you aren't experiencing withdrawal symptoms, you don't need to chew at that moment.

The upside of nicotine gum is that you have more control over the amount of nicotine you take in. You can chew it on a regular schedule or chew it only when you feel you need it. Typically, one or two pieces every hour or two does the trick.

Because the gum contains nicotine, a drug, it has potential side effects and downsides as well, including the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Tired or aching jaw

Note that some users get quite attached to nicotine gum. Some successful quitters have kept on using the gum for a year or more after quitting. Most healthcare providers recommend a maximum period of use of six months.

Keep nicotine gum out of the reach of children!

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