The latest research included just under 700 adult smokers from England. The study participants smoked an average of 20 cigarettes a day. More than nine in 10 of the participants were white. The average age of the smokers was 49, and half were women.
The study volunteers were randomly assigned to quit smoking abruptly or to cut down gradually by 75 percent over two weeks.
Before the day they quit, the gradual quitters used nicotine patches plus short-term products such as gum and lozenges; the abrupt quitters used only nicotine replacement patches. All of the participants received counseling assistance from nurses and short-term nicotine replacement medications after the quit day.
The researchers followed up at four weeks and six months after the experiment started. Blood testing was used to confirm whether smokers had actually quit.
At four weeks, 39 percent of those who’d gradually quit had stopped smoking compared to 49 percent of those who stopped abruptly. At six months, 16 percent of the gradual quitters and 22 percent of the abrupt quitters were still non-smokers, the study found.
The percentages of smokers who successfully quit may seem quite low, but Lindson-Hawley said those percentages are normal.
Dr. Michael Fiore, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who’s helped develop federal guidelines about quitting smoking, pointed out that the percentages are still higher than quitting without support from counseling or medication.
Why might quitting abruptly be better? Those who try to quit gradually, Fiore said, often succumb to “the challenges of life even when they have very good intentions and a lot of structure.”
What should smokers take from the study results? They should try quitting abruptly first, Lindson-Hawley said. However, “many people feel that they cannot quit smoking all at once. If the decision is between cutting down or not trying to quit at all, then quitting gradually is still a viable approach.”
Fiore said physicians should let patients try to quit gradually if they prefer that approach. “If I see them two months later and they crashed and burned, now I say, ‘You’ve learned from that, let’s try this quick-cessation thing.'”
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