Electronically Monitored Nicotine Gum Use Before and After Smoking Lapses: Relationship With Lapse and Relapse

Nicotine Tob Res. 2020 Oct 29;22(11):2051-2058. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa116.


Introduction: Greater use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is related to smoking cessation success, but the causal direction is unclear. This study characterized the relationship between NRT use and smoking lapse and relapse.

Methods: Participants (N = 416 smokers; 57% female, 85% White) were recruited from primary care for a smoking cessation factorial experiment and analyzed if abstaining ≥1 day in the first 2 weeks post-target quit day (TQD). Participants were randomized to counseling and 8 versus 26 weeks of nicotine patch plus nicotine gum post-TQD. Participants carried electronic dispensers that timestamped each gum use. Participants who lapsed (smoked after abstaining) within 6 weeks post-TQD were matched with nonlapsers (n = 146 pairs) on multiple variables. We compared lapsers' versus matched nonlapsers' gum use in the 5 days before and after the lapsers' first lapse.

Results: By week 6 post-TQD, 63% of participants lapsed. Compared with nonlapsers, lapsers used less gum 1 and 2 days pre-"lapse" and on the 5 days post-lapse. Lapsers used less gum during the 5 days post-lapse than the 5 days pre-lapse. Univariate survival analyses with lapsers showed greater gum use during both pre- and post-lapse periods predicted longer latency to relapse in the first 6 weeks.

Conclusions: In a smoking cessation attempt using nicotine patch plus gum, lapsers versus matched nonlapsers used less gum immediately preceding and following their first lapse. Lower mean gum use before and after lapses predicted a more rapid escalation to relapse. Decreased nicotine gum use both precedes and follows returns to smoking during cessation attempts.

Implications: This research examined electronically monitored nicotine gum use collected in real time and found that among smokers engaged in a quit attempt, lapsers (vs. matched nonlapsers) tended to decrease their gum use 1-2 days prior to lapsing and to further decrease their gum use from pre- to post-lapse. Decreased gum use pre-lapse may signal heightened lapse risk in 1-2 days, with lower level of gum use predicting a more precipitous course of relapse. These results encourage further exploration of objective measures of smoking medication use patterns to examine their signaling properties and to inform understanding of cessation failure.

Clinical trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01120704.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Counseling / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine
  • Recurrence
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking / therapy
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / prevention & control*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01120704