Patients who smoke cigarettes are at increased risk for development of complications both during and after surgical procedures, including respiratory, cardiac, and healing-related complications. Abstinence from smoking can considerably reduce these risks. Pharmacotherapy, including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), is an important component of efficacious tobacco use interventions. However, the use of NRT in the perioperative period is controversial. In this narrative review, we discuss the current evidence for the efficacy and safety of NRT in patients scheduled for surgical procedures, with emphasis on evidence from human studies. We performed a literature search for articles published from January 1, 1990, through May 1, 2015, in the PubMed online database using various permutations of the Medical Subject Headings terms surgery; surgical procedures, operative; nicotine; and smoking cessation. Studies were selected for inclusion according to their relevance to the preclinical and clinical evidence pertaining to how NRT affects surgical outcome and long-term rates of abstinence from tobacco. There is strong evidence that NRT enhances the efficacy of tobacco use interventions. Some preclinical studies suggest that nicotine in high doses that exceed those produced by NRT decreases the viability of skin flaps. Although the available data are limited, there is no evidence from human studies that NRT increases the risk of healing-related or cardiovascular complications. Individual clinical trials of tobacco use interventions that include NRT have revealed either no effect or a reduction in complication rates. Therefore, given the benefits of smoking abstinence to both perioperative outcomes and long-term health and the efficacy of NRT in achieving and maintaining abstinence, any policies that prohibit the use of NRT in surgical patients should be reexamined.
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