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Dear Dr. Zorba,

I stopped smoking almost 8 years ago. I was never a heavy smoker, only half a pack a day, max. I really wanted to quit but kept on failing. Finally, I hit BINGO with nicotine gum. It worked. The problem now is I’m still chewing after all these years. I’m addicted. I’m afraid if I stop, that I’ll go back to my sinful ways. What shall I do?

– Chewy

Dear Chewy,

When the nicotine gum first came out in the 1970s, it was celebrated as a great step forward in kicking the habit. It still is. Lots of people use it. And just like the nicotine patch, spray, lozenge or inhaler, it can satisfy the craving so you can get off your stuff.

Congrats on stopping. Kudos.

Now as for your continuing compulsion to chew, you are also not alone there either. You’re part of a “special” group of former smokers, 5 percent to be more precise, who are either (A) addicted, or (B) worried they’ll relapse, so they chew on.

Let’s look at the addiction side. It’s clearly not in the same category as heroin or crack. Those are bad drugs. If you analyze your chewing, then it might just fit the definition of compulsive behavior. If you’re concerned, then a therapist might just be what the doctor ordered. You make the call.

Now for the other side, fear of relapse. If that’s making you chew on and you really, really want to stop then try cutting the gum in half and mixing it with a spicy gum like Big Red. If half the nicotine gum dose works, then go for one-quarter of the dose for a while and then stop. Tapering off might do the trick.

The bottom line is: We know unequivocally that gum is safer than tobacco.

Now regarding that pesky FDA mandated label implying “thou shall not use it for more than 3 months or else.” Are you really worried that some government gumshoe agent with an FDA fedora is going to show their badge and bring you in? Put that fear to rest. The FDA is not the FBI.

The real gunslingers to watch in this shootout are the tobacco makers who want you to think that “smokeless” tobacco is much safer. They’re now being joined by new snake oil salesmen, the battery-powered “no smoke” cigarette lobby that claims these gadgets safely satisfy the craving. They don’t, and users often find themselves back on tobacco.

And one more thing – you’re fooling yourself if you think that smoking a half pack a day was not being a “user.” You’re dead wrong. Regular cigarette smoking is regular cigarette smoking, period. The more you smoke, the greater the risk.

Zero is zero. I did some “misthinking” when I was in college. I thought I was just an occasional smoker until I tried to quit. Took me four times to do it. My advice is never give up. Never ever.

Great tips for stopping smoking and more are on University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention website at www.ctri.wisc.edu.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, professor, author and broadcast journalist. He hosts a radio call-in show at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.