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Nicotine Patches

Topic Overview

A nicotine patch looks like an oversized adhesive bandage. The outer part of the patch sticks to your skin, while the inner portion presses against and slowly releases nicotine into your skin. See a picture of how to use these patches to help you quit smoking or stop using smokeless tobacco.

Nicotine patches are usually sold in kits that contain enough patches to get most people through the quitting process. Many brands come with different-sized patches containing different strengths of nicotine. For the first few weeks, use a large patch. Then use medium-sized patches for the next few weeks, and use the smallest patches—which contain the least nicotine—during the last few weeks. With other brands, you use the same size of patch every week then simply stop using the patch.

Nicotine patches are available in forms that supply a constant dose of nicotine for either 16 or 24 hours.

The 24-hour patch may cause sleep disturbance, such as difficulty sleeping or unusually vivid dreams. Removing the patch a few hours before you go to sleep may stop sleep problems.

Choosing the right patch strength is important to your success in quitting smoking. If you weigh more than 45 kg (100 lb), start with the highest dose patch. Talk to your healthcare provider for more help choosing the right patch strength.

Use of nicotine patches usually lasts 8 to 10 weeks, but this can vary with the individual and the brand of patch. If you feel you need to use the patch for a longer period of time, talk to your healthcare provider.

How to use nicotine patches

  • Read and follow the directions enclosed with the medicine as well as any given to you by your healthcare provider.
  • Apply the patch to a clean, hairless place on the skin between the neck and the waist, such as the upper arm, the shoulder, or the back.
  • Do not apply the patch to the same location over and over again. Find several locations and rotate among them. This will decrease problems with skin irritation.
  • Wear the patch all day. Do not put it on and remove it as a substitute for a cigarette. Do not remove it in order to smoke a cigarette.
  • Some brands of nicotine patches come in several strengths. Use the largest (highest-strength) patch first, then switch to the smaller (lower-strength) patches according to the schedule recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Replace the patch daily.

What else should I know?

  • One patch gives you nicotine for 24 hours.
  • You may choose to quit tobacco before you use the patch.
  • If you choose to use the patch to get ready to quit tobacco, you can start using the patch 2 weeks before your quit date.
  • Don’t open the patch with your teeth or scissors. This can damage it so it won’t work properly.
  • The patch works best on clean, dry skin with no hair. Don’t put it on skin that you just shaved or that you just put lotion on.
  • The best places for the patch are on your upper arms, chest, and back.
  • You can leave your patch on when you shower or have a bath.
  • Store the patches at room temperature in a closed container away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
  • Store new patches and get rid of used patches where children and pets can’t get to them. The patch has enough nicotine in it to harm a child or animal.

Your chances of quitting may be increased if you use nicotine gum, inhalers, or lozenges or bupropion along with the patch. You can talk with your healthcare provider about combining the patch with another nicotine replacement therapy or a quit-smoking medicine.

Related Information


Adaptation Date: 3/19/2021

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.