Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you stop smoking

Nicotine is the ingredient in cigarettes that makes them addictive. This is why it can be hard to give up smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) are licensed medicines that give you a low level of nicotine. They do not contain the other poisonous chemicals present in tobacco smoke. For example, tar and carbon monoxide. NRT products are checked for safety by the Health Products Regulatory Agency in Ireland.

NRT is recommended as a first-line treatment in Ireland's National Guideline on Stop Smoking Care. You can use NRT in combination with a prescription medicine to stop smoking.

There are different types of NRT:

Your GP, pharmacist or stop smoking advisor can help you decide which type of NRT is right for you.

Getting NRT

You can buy NRT without a prescription in pharmacies or some supermarkets. If you have a medical card, you can get free NRT on prescription.

There are some situations when it might not be good to use NRT.

Talk to your GP if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are under 18
  • have recently had a heart attack

How NRT works

NRT provides just enough nicotine to relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • lack of concentration
  • hunger pangs

NRT relieves physical withdrawal symptoms. This helps you to focus on the psychological (emotional) aspects of quitting.

For NRT to work, you must use it:

  • the right way - your stop smoking advisor, pharmacist or GP can explain how
  • for long enough - usually for 8 to 12 weeks
  • at the right amount for your level of nicotine addiction

If NRT did not work for you in the past

If you tried a type of NRT before without success, do not give up on it completely.

You may not have used it properly or for long enough. Try again and follow the instructions carefully. You could also be in a different frame of mind this time.

There are many types of NRT. You could try a different type of NRT product. Get advice from your pharmacist, stop smoking advisor or GP.

Advice if you’ve tried to stop smoking before

Side effects of NRT

NRT is a safe medicine. People who use it rarely experience problems. Read the instructions before you use NRT. Get advice from your GP or pharmacist.

Some people may get side effects from using NRT.

These include:

  • skin irritation, muscle aches and stiffness when using patches
  • racing heartbeat
  • difficulty sleeping, sometimes with vivid dreams
  • an upset stomach
  • dizziness
  • headaches

Some side effects, such as a racing heart, may happen because the dose of nicotine is too high for you. You could also have nicotine withdrawal symptoms if your NRT dose is too low.

Side effects are usually mild. But if you are worried about side effects, talk to your GP or pharmacist. You may need to change the dose or type of NRT.

NRT is not swapping one addiction with another

Some people think that using NRT is just swapping one addiction for another. But this is not true.

Smoking is highly addictive. It very quickly delivers nicotine to the brain. This makes stopping smoking difficult.

The nicotine levels in NRT are much lower than in tobacco. The way they deliver nicotine makes them less addictive than smoking.

Most health problems are caused by other components in tobacco smoke, not by the nicotine. It is safer to use licensed nicotine-containing products than to smoke.

People who use NRT can reduce their use of it and stop. A stop smoking advisor can talk to you about how to use NRT in a way that is safe and that works.

Choosing a stop smoking treatment

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2022
Next review due: 5 October 2025