We conducted a systematic literature review to identify and critically evaluate studies of serious adverse health effects (SAHEs) in humans using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products. Serious adverse health effects refer to adverse events, leading to substantial disruption of the ability to conduct normal life functions. Strength of evidence evaluations and conclusions were also determined for the identified SAHEs. We evaluated 34 epidemiological studies and clinical trials, relating NRT use to cancer, reproduction/development, CVD, stroke and/or other SAHEs in patients, and four meta-analyses on effects in healthy populations. The overall evidence suffers from many limitations, the most significant being the short-term exposure (≤12 weeks) and follow-up to NRT product use in most of the studies, the common failure to account for changes in smoking behaviour following NRT use, and the sparse information on SAHEs by type of NRT product used. The only SAHE from NRT exposure we identified was an increase in respiratory congenital abnormalities reported in one study. Limited evidence indicated a lack of effect between NRT exposure and SAHEs for CVD and various reproduction/developmental endpoints. For cancer, stroke and other SAHEs, the evidence was inadequate to demonstrate any association with NRT use. Our conclusions agree with recent statements from authoritative bodies.
Keywords: Clinical trials; Epidemiology; Nicotine; Nicotine replacement therapy; Serious adverse health effects; Systematic review.