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Using a Computer to Help People Quit Smoking


WebMD Health News

June 19, 2000 -- There are many methods out there to help you kick the habit, but nicotine replacement therapies are the most common. These can include gum, patches, and inhalers -- which deliver nicotine to the bloodstream to help you control your cravings.

But smoking is more than just an addiction to nicotine. It's also a way of life and an integral part of a smoker's lifestyle. Familiar situations, activities, and even friends are associated with cigarettes. Because a part of smoking is behavioral, a method to change that aspect of addiction is hard to put in a box.

To fight behavioral addiction, manufacturers have tried adding booklets and audiotapes to the nicotine replacement products, but as Saul Shiffman, PhD, writes in a recent issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine,"a recent review concluded that the addition of standard self-help materials to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) did not improve cessation rates."

So as an alternative, Shiffman and colleagues looked at the usefulness of computer-tailored smoking cessation materials, a method that's beginning to gain a foothold as a successful device. Shiffman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the smoking research group there, says the results are impressive.

The availability of nicotine gums and over-the-counter patches allow people everywhere to access drug treatments for smoking, "but we still haven't successfully found a model for getting people behavioral treatment," Shiffman tells WebMD. "This [study] shows that we can do a behavioral treatment that reaches people everywhere by digital technology."

The researchers ultimately recruited more than 3,600 people out of about 95,000 who bought nicotine polacrilex gum manufactured by SmithKline Beecham. The pharmaceutical company supported the research, as well as the tailored program used in the research.

The tailored program, called the Committed Quitters Program, was developed in part by Shiffman, but is a registered trademark of SmithKline Beecham. But just because the products used in this study were proprietary does not mean the idea can't be applied by to other areas, Shiffman says.

"What we tested and what we just published was meant as a mate to the gum," Shiffman says. "In fact, we have also tested a program to accompany a nicotine patch, and also found it to be successful, and there is no reason to think tailored to other medications like Zyban [an anti-depressant used for smoking cessation], it wouldn't be equally successful."

When people enrolled in the study, they were asked questions regarding their demographic characteristics, smoking history, motives for quitting, and expected difficulties and challenges. The people taking part in the study averaged about 41 years of age, had smoked over a pack a day for about 22 years, and had attempted to quit before.

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