Oct. 21, 2008— -- Some people can smoke for years and give up the habit without any problem, but most smokers are not so lucky. After a few days, without warning, they light up another cigarette.
"It is an overpowering feeling that you must have a cigarette right now," said Monica Collins, a smoker, who's now on her fourth attempt to quit.
The nicotine in cigarettes can be that addictive, and current quit-smoking treatments are usually not enough.
"You cannot resist the craving," said Julie Gelfand, who's smoked a pack a day for 10 years and has tried repeatedly to stop. "You cannot keep fighting."
Studies show that 90 percent of smokers trying to quit will relapse within the first year, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Most smokers try to quit and fail several times before they succeed. But new cutting-edge products are being developed that may help more smokers finally kick the habit.
Perhaps the most revolutionary approach is a nicotine vaccine. Several versions are undergoing clinical trials. The vaccine is given to smokers in a series of four or five shots over several months.
Normally when someone smokes, nicotine molecules enter the bloodstream, and travel up into the brain to produce pleasure. The vaccine prompts the body's immune system to produce antibodies that latch on to the nicotine particles, making them so big they can no longer enter the brain.
"So you're essentially starving the brain of nicotine," explained Dr. Nancy Rigotti, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Mass General. "So when somebody smokes, they don't get any satisfaction. They don't get the reward from smoking so after a while they stop."
If a vaccine proves safe and effective in larger studies, one could be available within a few years.
Other quit-smoking tools take the opposite approach: giving smokers nicotine in new, faster, easier-to-use ways. Studies show that giving smokers doses of nicotine can double the chances of quitting.
In Sweden, where the first nicotine replacement products were invented 40 years ago, a company has just released the first nicotine mouth spray, which gets nicotine into the brain in just seconds.
"You can spray one shot or two, or three, or four," said Karl Fagerstrom, a professor and pioneering nicotine researcher at Uppsala University. "It depends on how dependent you are, what sort of need you have, how much craving you have."
Next year, a Danish company will offer a long-lasting nicotine mouth pouch for smokers to suck on.
"We need more help. Not everyone can respond to one thing," said Rigotti. "It's not that kind of problem. People need to have a variety of things."
These new treatments may provide the help so many smokers need to put down their cigarettes for good.