Stamping Out CigarettesYour health insurance policy may cover nicotine patches, but the odds are stacked against it covering the entire cost. Reuters reports that less than 9% of health insurance companies pay the full cost for the patches, although your company may cover part of the expenses.

As with other services that are covered by health insurance, your policy may have specific instructions you must follow in order to obtain coverage for the patch. This may include attending a series of smoking cessation classes, purchasing the patch through a specific vendor, or other stipulations, according to the San Francisco Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Project.

How does the patch work?

The nicotine patch works by supplying your body with nicotine so you have less desire to smoke a cigarette to obtain the level of nicotine to which your body has become accustomed. The patch sticks on your skin, resembling a large adhesive bandage.

Instead of entering your body through your lungs and respiratory system, nicotine enters through your skin and circulatory system. Even though your body is still receiving nicotine, you are still avoiding other pollutants associated with smoking or chewing tobacco.

Patches are usually available in versions you either wear for 16 hours or 24 hours at a time. Eight to 12 weeks is the standard amount of time people use the patch. It may take you a longer or shorter amount of time, depending on how quickly your cravings and withdrawal symptoms decrease.

What are the pros and cons of the patch?

In addition to avoiding cigarette and tobacco pollutants, another perk of the patch is its over-the-counter availability without prescription, according to the Mayo Clinic. You usually only have to use one patch per day and patches come in a variety of nicotine levels, so you can slowly wean your body off the nicotine. Because each patch lasts 24 hours, you can expect long-lasting relief from nicotine cravings and withdrawal.

Drawbacks of the patch include a pre-set nicotine level on each patch, which means you can’t adjust to a higher level of nicotine if you suddenly start to crave a cigarette or suffer from withdrawal. Side effects can include nausea, dizziness, heartburn, and nicotine toxicity, which is an overload of nicotine in the system.

You may also suffer intense dreams, sleep disruptions, or skin rashes, itching, and irritation where it’s stuck to your skin. Taking the patch off at night may reduce the sleep and dream issues. Putting the patch in a different location each day may reduce the risk of rash, itchiness, and irritation. You may want to avoid the patch altogether if you suffer from extremely dry skin or other skin conditions.

What happens if I smoke with a patch on?

Smoking with a nicotine patch on defeats the purpose of the patch as a smoking cessation tool, and it can also cause an overload of nicotine to hit your system. Nicotine toxicity, also called nicotine poisoning, can result.

What other smoking cessation tools are there?

Other smoking cessation tools include a variety of items that, like the patch, are meant to maintain nicotine levels in your body. You may opt to try nicotine products that include gum and lozenges or nasal spray and inhalers.

Nicotine lozenges and gum are available without a prescription. They can help quell sudden cravings and are available in different doses. Like the patch, you can slowly wean your body off nicotine by choosing lower levels as you progress.

You can also consume fewer lozenges or gum as your withdrawal symptoms and cravings subside. Unlike the patch that you apply and forget about, both nicotine lozenges and gum require constant attention. You must continuously eat the lozenges or chew the gum to keep nicotine levels steady.

Nicotine inhalers and nicotine nasal spray are only available by prescription. Both offer quick bursts of nicotine to quell cravings. Like the gum and lozenges, maintaining a steady nicotine level requires continuous use of the products.

What about medications?

The antidepressant bipropion, sold as Zyban, has been used to help people quit smoking. So has the drug varenicline, sold as Chantix, which blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain. Both drugs are available by prescription only and both come with major warnings.

They take at least five days to begin to work, and they also come with potentially serious side effects. Both drugs can induce mental health breakdowns and other issues, increasing suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior. Zyban is not recommended for people who have eating disorders or suffer from seizures. Chantix is not recommended for those suffering from kidney problems.

Depending on the exact details of your health insurance plan, it may cover at least a partial cost of smoking cessation tools or measures. Insuring non-smokers is cheaper for the company than insuring smokers, and some may offer programs or assistance to those who wish to quit.