People can put on a nicotine patch as soon as they stop smoking. A person does not need to wait a certain length of time before starting nicotine replacement therapy.

Experts such as the American Cancer Society recommend nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help people quit tobacco. Using nicotine patches can reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings while someone gets used to not smoking.

This article explains how to use nicotine patches correctly and how they work. It discusses possible side effects and other types of NRT. In addition, it answers some frequently asked questions.

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The American Cancer Society advises that depending on a person’s body size and smoking habits, most people should start using a full-strength patch of 15–22 milligrams (mg) of nicotine daily for several weeks.

Then, they can switch to a weaker nicotine patch (5–14 mg) for another several weeks.

People can start using NRT as soon as they throw away their tobacco.

How to

A person should apply the patch in the morning onto clean, dry skin without much hair. They can position the patch on the body anywhere below the neck to above the waist.

People commonly place it on the upper arm, back, or chest. However, experts recommend that people avoid wearing the patch in the same place more than once a week, since this can result in skin irritation.

Individuals typically wear a nicotine patch for 24 hours. It can stay on in the shower or when bathing.

The American Cancer Society states that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved using the patch for 3–5 months but notes that using it for longer is preferable to returning to smoking. notes that people may still have withdrawal symptoms or cravings while using NRT, but they may be less intense. They explain that most people find withdrawal especially difficult during the first 2 weeks after quitting.

According to, NRT is the most commonly used medication to quit smoking and can double the chances of giving up for good.

Nicotine patches deliver a controlled amount of nicotine to help satisfy cravings and reduce the urge to smoke. mentions that NRT products do not contain the other dangerous chemicals present in cigarettes.

For the best chance for success, experts recommend exploring other methods to combine with nicotine patches.

The American Cancer Society explains that as people switch to lower-dose patches over the course of weeks, they gradually wean themselves off the nicotine.

The American Cancer Society notes the following cautions and possible side effects when using nicotine patches.

People still smoking or using any other form of tobacco must not use a nicotine patch or any type of nicotine replacement therapy. It is possible to overdose on nicotine, so people must follow patch instructions carefully, store and dispose of them properly, and keep the products away from pets and children.

People must avoid using heat pads or lamps on the skin near a patch, as increased blood supply to the area could mean they absorb more nicotine, which could be harmful.

Possible side effects of the nicotine patch include:

Some side effects, such as a racing heart rate, could mean the nicotine dose is too high. If this happens, people must stop using the patch and speak with their doctor.

However, if the dose of nicotine is too low, someone may have tobacco withdrawal symptoms.

According to the American Cancer Society, sleep problems with the nicotine patch may resolve in 3–4 days. However, if they do not and someone is using the 24-hour patch, they can try switching to the 16-hour patch.

It is important to note that the FDA has not approved NRT products for teenagers or pregnant people.

Apart from skin patches, there are other alternatives that people can use to help them give up smoking.

The FDA approved the following nicotine replacement products, which may be available over the counter for adults over 18 or by prescription from a doctor.

Over the counter:

  • chewing gum, which some people refer to as nicotine gum
  • lozenges

By prescription:

  • nicotine spray
  • nicotine inhaler

The FDA also approves two prescription products in tablet form that do not contain nicotine:

In addition, the FDA has given marketing clearance to a device using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as a short-term aid to help adults quit smoking.

People must speak with a healthcare professional to discuss the most suitable option and be aware that smoking cessation prescription drugs may have side effects.

The following answers some frequently asked questions.

How long do nicotine patches take to work?

Research suggests that while it only takes a few seconds for high doses of nicotine from a cigarette to reach the brain, skin patches work over hours.

How long do nicotine patches last?

People should replace a nicotine patch with a new one after 24 hours.

What is the best time to put on a nicotine patch?

Experts recommend putting a new patch on each morning after showering.

How many cigarettes does a 21 mg patch equal?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that a person should consider starting on a 21-mg patch if they smoke more than ten cigarettes a day.

People can put on a nicotine patch as soon as they stop smoking. Experts advise that using a nicotine patch may help people deal with withdrawal symptoms while they quit cigarettes, alongside other quitting methods.

People should not smoke or use tobacco while using nicotine patches as this may cause a nicotine overdose which can be harmful. A person can speak with a healthcare professional to discuss the most suitable NRT.