Why Many Smokers Fail to Quit on Their First Attempt

American Lung Association's Jennifer Folkenroth discusses the issues with "cold turkey," and what every habitual smoker should look for in a cessation plan.

Despite being among the most popular New Year resolutions, smoking cessation is a generally failed practice by tobacco users.

But there is fairly basic rationale for what burdens those who attempt to quit—and how to combat it.

In a recent episode of the monthly respiratory health podcast series Lungcast, Jennifer Folkenroth, national senior director of Tobacco Programs at the American Lung Association (ALA), spoke with ALA chief medical officer Albert Rizzo, MD, on the parameters and strategy around smoking cessation. Namely, Folkenroth explained, a smoker must be the person inspiring themselves to quit, and they have to practice patience.

“We know a lot of smokers will attempt a good old cold turkey quit right off the bat,” she said. “We don’t want to tell anyone we’re quitting—that way if we happen to relapse or we’re not successful, we’re not breaking anyone’s heart.“

However, research suggests only 5-7% of smokers who first use the cold turkey method achieve long-term cessation—whereas up to 60% may be successful following a strategy of combining US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pharmacotherapy with counseling therapy, Folkenroth said.

“Really, identifying and putting into place the right plan is essential,” she said.

Folkenroth additionally discussed the role of “self sabotage, through feelings of defeat or low confidence” in cessation failure.

“We understand that tobacco use is a chronic, relapsing condition that requires evidence-based improvement of effective strategies to evoke that lasting change,” she said. “And quitting tobacco is a process—it’s not an event.”

Lastly, she highlighted the significance and importance of well-established support systems for smokers beginning to quit.

“The medication and the counseling puts us on the right path,” Folkenroth said. “The support is what keeps us on track, and pulls us through those tough times and those urges.”

Lungcast is a monthly respiratory podcast series produced by HCPLive and the ALA, hosted by Rizzo.

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