Want to Stop Smoking? Just Do It!

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Going cold turkey may not sound very appetizing to long-time smokers, but a new study finds the approach to be the most effective way to quit.

Smokers who picked a date to give up their addiction entirely versus those who gradually tapered off their smoking were 25 percent more likely to kick their habit, scientists from the Oxford University report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For their study, researchers enlisted 697 smokers who were looking to quit. Participants had access to and made use of supporting strategies for smoking cessation, including medication, counseling and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which includes nicotine gum, patches or spray.

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Divided into two groups, half of the recruits quit smoking abruptly after setting a date for their quit day while the other half gradually reduced their habit. In order to monitor their success, researchers both interviewed the study participants and measured the amount of carbon monoxide each volunteer was breathing out.

Four weeks in, nearly half of the “abrupt” group succeeded in avoiding tobacco. Thirty-nine perfect of the “gradual” managed to do the same. “The difference in quit attempts seemed to arise because people struggled to cut down,” said lead author Nicola Lindson-Howley. “It provided them with an extra thing to do, which may have put them off quitting altogether.”

The one caveat to the study is that the “abrupt” strategy proved most effective among people who wanted to quit smoking entirely. For those who couldn’t envision a tobacco-free future, cutting back on smoking over time is a step in the right direction.

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Even though several studies back the “cold turkey” approach, for many smokers, suddenly quitting their tobacco addiction is easier said than done. A study conducted in University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University explored the underlying reasons why long-time smokers often fail short.

If a smoker makes the determination to quit smoking, that decision often occurs when that individual isn’t craving a cigarette. Smokers tend to underestimate their desire to light up what that urge creeps back. The results have implications not only for smokers who want to quit, but also nonsmokers who undervalue just how easy it is to become addicted.

“Failing to anticipate the motivational strength of cigarette craving, nonsmokers may not appreciate how easy it is to become addicted and how difficult it is to quit once addicted,” the authors wrote in the journal Psychological Science. “If even individuals who are addicted to cigarettes cannot appreciate their own craving when they are not in a craving state, as this study suggests, how likely is it that, for example, a teenager who has never experienced cigarette craving can imagine what it is like to crave a cigarette?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking kills more than 480,000 people in the United States every year, nearly one in five deaths. As of 2014, 16.8 percent of U.S. adults, or 40 million people, smoke cigarettes.

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