“Cold turkey” works best for smoking cessation

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Patients’ preferred method of cessation plays a role

The investigators also found a difference in successful cessation based on the participants preferred method of cessation. Participants who preferred abrupt cessation were more likely to be abstinent at 4 weeks than participants who preferred gradual cessation (52.2% vs 38.3%; P=.007).

People who prefer gradual cessation are less likely to be successful at quitting—regardless of whether they try to quit abruptly or gradually.Patients with a baseline preference for gradual cessation were equally as likely to successfully quit when allocated to abrupt cessation against their preference as when they were allocated to gradual cessation: 4-week abstinence was seen in 34.6% of patients who preferred gradual cessation and were allocated to gradual cessation and in 42% of patients who preferred gradual cessation but were allocated to abrupt cessation (P=.152).


Higher quality than previous studies and added element of preference

This large, well-designed, non-inferiority study showed that abrupt cessation is superior to gradual cessation. The size and design of the study, including a standardized method of assessing cessation and a standardized intervention, make this a higher quality study than those in the Cochrane meta-analysis.6 This study also showed that participants who preferred gradual cessation were less likely to be successful—regardless of the method to which they were ultimately randomized.


Generalizability limited by race and number of cigarettes smoked

Patients lost to follow-up at 4 weeks (35 in the abrupt-cessation group and 48 in the gradual-cessation group) were assumed to have continued smoking, which may have biased the results toward abrupt cessation. That said, the large number of participants included in the study, along with the relatively small number of patients lost to follow-up, minimizes this weakness.

The participants were largely white, which may limit generalizability to non-white populations. In addition, participants smoked an average of 20 cigarettes per day and, as noted previously, an observational study of tobacco users in France found that heavy smokers (≥21 cigarettes/d) were more likely to quit gradually than abruptly, so results may not be generalizable to heavy smokers.7


Finding the time and staff for considerable behavioral support

One important challenge is the implementation of such a structured tobacco cessation program in primary care. Both abrupt- and gradual-cessation groups were given considerable behavioral support from research nurses. Participants in this study were seen by a nurse 7 times in the first 6 weeks of the study, and the intervention included nurse-created reduction schedules.

Even if patients in the study preferred one method of cessation to another, they were receptive to quitting either gradually or abruptly. In clinical practice, patients are often set in their desired method of cessation. In that setting, our role is then to inform them of the data and support them in whatever method they choose.


The PURLs Surveillance System was supported in part by Grant Number UL1RR024999 from the National Center or Research Resources, a Clinical Translational Science Award to the University of Chicago. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Research Resources or the National Institutes of Health.


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