New research suggests that stopping smoking completely is the best way to kick the habit.
According to the study nearly 50% of those who went cold turkey still hadn’t had a cigarette 4 weeks after quitting. For those who stopped gradually, that figure was just 39%.
Quitting abruptly beats gradually decreasing number of cigarettes
“Most people thought cutting down would suit them better,” said study lead author Nicola Lindson-Hawley, a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “But whatever they thought, it turned out they were better to try to quit abruptly.”
The full results of the study were published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine on March 14. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the leading preventable cause of death.
Every year around 400,000 Americans die due to smoking. For each of the deceased, another 30 are living with smoking-related illnesses, says the CDC. Stopping smoking drastically reduces the chances of dying from one of these illnesses.
Smoking study shadowed 700 adult smokers in England
Research suggests that nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, so it’s not hard to see why people have such trouble quitting. Those who try often suffer stress, hunger and weight gain, which puts them off from doing so.
Nicotine replacement therapy and counseling can help, and plenty of people do manage to shake the habit. However researchers have found that quitting completely from one day to the next is the most effective way to do so.
Te study involved 700 adult smokers from England, who averaged around 20 cigarettes per day. 9 of 10 participants were white, and half were women. The average age was 49, and participants were randomly assigned to either go cold turkey or cut down gradually.
The gradual quitters were given nicotine patches, gum and lozenges before they eventually quit. The abrupt quitters were given nicotine replacement patches,while both groups received counseling.
Results showed low, but normal, success rates
Scientists followed up at 4 weeks and 6 months after the start date, using blood tests to confirm whether the subjects had quit. After 4 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 had managed not to have another cigarette.
While those percentages may seem low, they are normal according to Lindson-Hawley. Dr. Michael Fiore, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has worked on federal guidelines for smoking cessation, said that the numbers are higher than for those who try to do so without assistance.
Fiore says that going cold turkey may be better because gradual quitters fall prey to “the challenges of life even when they have very good intentions and a lot of structure.”Lindson-Hawely recommends trying to quit abruptly first, despite the fact that “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 believes that the approach should be tailored to individual patients. “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,'” he said.
If you are trying to kick the habit, go cold turkey and see what happens. If you fail, try a more gradual method.