Quitting smoking is always one of the best options for smokers regarding their health and personal well-being.
However, even though most smokers are aware of the health risks of smoking, they find that quitting smoking is one of the most challenging things they have ever met due to their nicotine dependence.
Luckily, there are a variety of options available on the market to help with smoking cessation. The most typical one is called nicotine replacement therapy(NRT), which comes with different forms of licensed medicines that help reduce smokers' cravings for nicotine and withdrawal symptoms when they are attempting cessation.
In addition to nicotine replacement therapy, there are also other commercial products that can help smokers overcome the craving for tobacco smoking. One of these products that have grown in popularity is herbal heated sticks.
Today, we will talk about NRT and herbal heat sticks, as well as a comparison between them.
What makes tobacco smoking harmful?
It is well known that traditional tobacco smoking is harmful to human health, but the question is, what contributes to the harm of conventional cigarette smoking?
While nicotine is the substance that gets smokers addicted and that has some side effects, such as increased blood pressure, dizziness, etc., it is not reported as a cancerogenic compound and not recognized as the major cause of tobacco-related diseases, which include various cancers, respiratory problems, heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and so on.
As a matter of fact, what leads to the harm of tobacco cigarettes is the way they deliver nicotine.
When used, a regular cigarette is lit up with an open flame and burnt to an ultra-high temperature of around 900C, a temperature that leads to combustion. During the combustion process, the cigarette releases tobacco smoke and its residues, which contain about seven thousand chemicals.
Among these chemicals, 250 substances are found to be toxic, and 70 are reported to be cancerogenic. These harmful chemicals are considered the predominant sources of tobacco harm.
In other words, it is tobacco smoke and its byproducts, rather than nicotine, that are responsible for the preventable disease and death that are linked with cigarette smoking. This is where NRT and other alternative nicotine systems come in to help users with their smoking cessation.
What is nicotine replacement therapy(NRT)?
Nicotine replacement therapy(NRT) is referred to as different licensed medicines that can alleviate the cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms of smokers, enabling them to focus on the psychological aspects of quitting when they try to stop smoking.
As we know, traditional cigarettes are designed to quickly deliver high levels of nicotine to users' brains, leading to their strong cravings for smoking. When stopping smoking, they are likely to have withdrawal symptoms, including nicotine cravings, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, anxiety, frustration, and hunger pangs, among others.
Conversely, the idea behind NRT products is that they slowly deliver a steady and controlled dosage of nicotine to users. Compared with tobacco smoking, the nicotine level in NRT products is lower and the way they deliver nicotine makes users less addicted. Therefore, they can reduce users' urge to smoke or vape.
In addition, NRT products don't produce poisonous chemicals and carcinogens present in tobacco smoke and its byproducts and are recognized as a safe substitute for tobacco products (predominantly conventional cigarettes).
Till now, five forms of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which are gum, patch, lozenges, inhalers and nasal sprays.
Among these five types of NRT, patch, gum and lozenge are available over-the-counter for adults 18+, while inhalers and nasal spray are prescribed. Except for nicotine patches, the other four forms of NRT products are considered as fast-acting NRT.
To increase the chances of quitting, users are advised to use combination therapy, which means pairing a fast-acting NRT, such as lozenges, with a long-acting NRT(nicotine patch). With combination therapy, the level of nicotine in their bloodstream remains steady throughout the day while also responding to the urge to smoke.
Cautions about NRT products
Note that the best time to use NRT products is when you first quit, and the recommended treatment time for all NRT products is between 8-12 weeks.
Besides, it is possible that non-adherence and relapse occur after cessation of therapy, and in this case, you need a close follow-up.
NRT products are recognized as effective tools in helping with smoking quitting and best suit those users who smoke and are significantly dependent on nicotine.
However, since NRT products are medicines, they might have some potential side effects, such as skin irritation, headaches, racing heartbeat, sleep disturbance and so on.
It might not be a good choice for you to use NRT products if you have conditions or allergies. For example, if you have breathing conditions, you should avoid inhalers, or if you have skin conditions, do not use patches.
Also, there are some situations when you might not be recommended to use NRT products. For instance, if you are pregnant or you are under 18 years old.
While NRT is considered as a first-line treatment for smoking cessation, for those who don't want to or are unable to use medicine to help with smoking cessation, heat-not-burn herbal heat sticks would be another good option.
Herbal heated tobacco-free sticks
Herbal heated sticks work by using an electronic heating device(also called a heat-not-burn device) to heat natural herbs rather than tobacco to produce an aerosol that is inhaled by the user.
The heating temperature of a herbal heat stick is at around 350C, which is much lower than that of a traditional cigarette when it is lit up, and no combustion or burning takes place during the heating process.
Hence, similar to NRT products, herbal heat sticks don't release tobacco smoke and its residues like tar and ash when it is in use.
Herbal heat sticks look like regular cigarettes, though they are smaller in size than the latter. Besides, they enable users to have similar experiences to smoking, as they replicate the feel and sensations of traditional cigarettes.
In contrast, NRT products don't offer users a smoking-like feeling since they are not in stick form and don't heat or burn to produce an inhalable aerosol or smoke. In other words, the way they are used is quite different from that of a traditional cigarette.
Therefore, for those who enjoy a cigarette-like sensation or smoking rituals, herbal heat sticks can be a good choice to help them with smoking quitting.
Herbal heated sticks are available in nicotine-contained or nicotine-free options. The nicotine strength might vary across brands or types of products but are commonly lower than traditional cigarettes.
Using herbal heat sticks enables users to reduce the consumption of regular cigarettes so that they can be exposed to lower levels of toxins that are present in tobacco smoke.
Some of the key players in the herbal heated sticks market include NEAFS sticks, Unicco, TQS, and more. According to research, NEAFS is the only one that passed MHRA in the UK. NEAFS have become increasingly popular in recent years. They use a special blend of natural herbs, tea leaves, nicotine, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and flavorings, offering users smoking-like sensations as well as enjoyable experiences.
Besides, as NEAFS sticks are non-tobacco products, they keep users away from the harsh smell and unpleasant aftertaste associated with tobacco products, leaving them refreshing and soothing.
The nicotine-contained NEAFS sticks contain nicotine in 1.5% strength, which is lower than conventional cigarettes so that they can relieve users' craving for nicotine, while the non-nicotine sticks give users smoking-like rituals and help them combat their addiction to tobacco products.
In short, nicotine replacement therapy delivers a steady and controlled level of nicotine to users in the forms of gum, patch, lozenges, inhalers and nasal spray without exposing them to toxic substances that come with burned or smoked tobacco cigarettes.
On the other hand, heated tobacco alternative sticks to heat, instead of burning natural herbs and tea and its variations to release nicotine-contained or non-nicotine aerosol for users to inhale.
Like NRT products, herbal heated sticks don't contain tobacco or tobacco smoke and its residues. While compared with NRT products, herbal heated sticks are more similar to standard cigarettes when it comes to the look, feel, and sensations.