The researchers say that, according to the latest data, changes should be made to nicotine patch labelling.
"Right now, the nicotine patch is only recommended for use after the quit date," explained Jed Rose, lead author of the study.
The current labelling comes as a result of concerns that using a patch while smoking could lead to nicotine overdose, but a literature review found concurrent use of a nicotine patch and cigarette smoking appears to be safe.
"People who use the patch before quitting are likely to spontaneously reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke because the patch satisfies their need for nicotine and makes the act of smoking less enjoyable," said Rose.
Nicotine patch also decreases withdrawal symptoms.
"Yet people are afraid to try a pre-cessation patch because the current labeling recommends users not smoke while on treatment. That's why our study is so important. It reinforces the findings of previous studies, which show the value of pre-cessation patch therapy, and demonstrates that using a pre-cessation nicotine patch can make a significant difference in a person's ability to quit," he added.
To find a successful smoking cessation method, the researchers randomised 400 people, who smoked an average of slightly more than one pack of cigarettes per day.
They were put in four groups who either used a nicotine or placebo patch for two weeks prior to quitting smoking, and were further randomised to smoking their regular brand of cigarettes or a low-tar and nicotine cigarette.
After the quit date, all groups received standard nicotine patch treatment at reduced dosages for a total of 10 weeks.
Twenty-two percent of participants in the pre-cessation nicotine patch groups abstained from smoking continuously for at least 10 weeks, compared to 11 percent in the placebo patch groups.
Rose said that the use of the pre-cessation patch is significant because it helps researchers predict people's subsequent quit success.
"People on the patch are more likely to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke. We found that is a potent predictor of subsequent abstinence. Smokers who did not reduce their smoking on the patch were less likely to succeed," the researcher added.
The study has been published in the online edition of the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.