Want to Quit Smoking? Go Cold Turkey

Slow and steady won’t win the race to quit smoking, one recent study finds.

Slow and steady won’t win the race to quit smoking, one recent study finds.

Research surrounding smoking cessation has long compared the options of quitting abruptly or gradual cessation — both with respective pros and cons.

However, the latest study on this topic, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, underscored the benefits of quitting smoking abruptly.

Nicola Lindson-Hawley, PhD, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, studied approximately 700 adult smokers who were divided into two groups.

One group was assigned a random day to abruptly quit smoking, going from their typical pack-a-day habit to zero.

The other was allowed to slowly stop over a two-week period — first cutting back to half a pack-a-day, then to a quarter-pack each day, before finally quitting.

Study participants from both groups were given nicotine patches immediately before quitting.

They also received another form of nicotine replacement, such as gum or nasal spray, and were encouraged to participate in talk therapy with a nurse before and after “quit day.”

Lindson-Hawley and team monitored the groups at two separate intervals — four weeks after quitting, and again six months later.

The researchers acknowledged honesty on the part of participants was integral for the success of the study, so the team also measured the level of carbon monoxide they exhaled. According to the study authors, a higher concentration of carbon monoxide indicated a participant likely had been smoking.

Results at six months showed that more than one-fifth of those who had suddenly quit had stayed with their decision, compared to about one-seventh of the individuals in the second group.

According to Lindson-Hawley, most smokers on the threshold of quitting are skeptical that they’d successfully be able to cut the habit in one day. “If you’re training for a marathon, you wouldn’t expect to turn up and just be able to run it. And I think people see that for smoking as well. They think, ‘Well, if I gradually reduce it’s almost practice,’” Lindson-Hawley said in an interview with npr.org.

The study results showed that the group that practiced gradual reduction experienced more cravings and withdrawal prior to reaching “quit day”.” Additionally, this study differed from others in that the participants were given both nicotine replacement and behavioral support.

The authors concluded, “Quitting smoking abruptly is more likely to lead to lasting abstinence than cutting down first, even for smokers who initially prefer to quit by gradual reduction.”