Are you a smoker but wish you weren’t? We’ve talked a lot about goals this year. If one of your goals is to put an end to your smoking addiction, you’ve probably wondered if there is a better way to quit: quickly or slowly? Turns out science has been wondering the same thing and has some valuable insight for you. . .
A recent British research study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and funded by the British Heart Foundation, supports what we’ve previously thought as true. According to lead researcher, Nicola Lindson-Hawley (as quoted in this Reuters article), “What we found was that more people manage to quit when they stopped smoking all in one go than when they gradually reduced before quitting.”
The study aimed to determine who has more long-term success in smoking cessation: those who quit gradually over time or those who quit all at once. Roughly 700 smokers were randomly split into two groups: one to quit abruptly, dropping from about a pack a day to zero and the second to quit gradually over 2 weeks time, cutting down to half a pack to start and then a quarter of pack before their official quit date. Both groups received counseling support from nurses and used nicotine patches plus a second form of nicotine replacement therapy before and after the day they quit.
The researchers checked back in after four weeks and again at 6 months of abstinence from smoking to see how it was going. To avoid skewed results by misleading reporting, researchers also measured the amount of carbon monoxide in their breath (high amounts indicate a return to smoking).
At four weeks, 39.2% of those who quit gradually were still not smoking compared to 49% of those who quit abruptly. At 6 months, 15.5% of the gradual quitters were still smoke free compared to 22% of those who stopped abruptly.
That’s roughly a 25% increase in stick-to-it-ness for those who quit abruptly.
Researchers theorize that success may not be as great in the gradual reduction group because some participants in this group experienced early cravings and withdrawal symptoms and never made it to their pre-planned quit day.
Levels of motivation were not explored in this study and may also have had an impact.
The study has received a lot of attention in the news lately with many headlines touting “cold turkey” is the best way to go; but beware of the term “cold turkey”. It gives the impression of being able to quit suddenly and without help.
To increase your chances of success, this is the furthest from the truth. Yes, you should go cold turkey in the sense that you should stop smoking, ideally never to return to it again, but you should also take advantage of every avenue of support available to get through such a tough task.
Without support, the success rate in this study would have been much lower. According to the American Cancer Society, only 4-7% of people successfully quit smoking without any medication or behavioral support.
Counseling boosts your success rate and using more than one single medicine option (prescription medicines plus nicotine patches, nasal sprays, or gums) increases your odds of quitting even more. Behavioral therapies increase success rates at remaining smoke free in the long term.
However you choose to quit, abruptly or gradual, don’t go cold turkey. There are lots of means out there, both physical and psychological to help increase your odds of success.
While it’s not a requirement that you quit abruptly in order to be successful – as humans we differ and some methods may work better for some than others – it is good information for anyone that would like to quit smoking but has no preference as to how to quit.
With all the health risks that smoking involves, it doesn’t really matter how you quit, it’s just important that you do.
The benefits of quitting are immediate and worth the effort:
- Smoking raises your heart rate and blood pressure and these return to normal almost immediately. Phew! It’s good to take it easy for a bit.
- Within a few hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood declines increasing the ability of your blood to carry oxygen to your cells. Your cells will be grateful for the fuel.
- Within a few weeks, your circulation improves; you produce less phlegm and you wheeze and cough less. In public, people will no longer stare at you like you have the plague.
- Within several months, your lung function improves dramatically. It feels good to take a deep breath!
- Within a few years, your risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses that result from smoking are lowered. Your loved ones will be grateful for this.
Oh, and did we mention the smell of your fingertips, hair, clothes and living environment will improve and a more vibrant sense of taste and smell will return? Cool!
For a laundry list of additional benefits of quitting, check out this site for Tobacco Free Maine or visit this page from the National Cancer Institute. The reasons to quit go on and on.
Improve your life: find a way to drop the habit!