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Using a Computer to Help People Quit Smoking

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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.

"The final twist is, instead of everybody getting the same 'one size fits all' program, each person got a program that was individually tailored for their particular needs and challenges, and that was done via computer tailoring and computer printing," Shiffman tells WebMD. "So, we were able to generate fully formatted, slick text for everyone, and everyone's was different."

The people in the study were split into three groups, one relying on the Committed Quitters Program, one relying on that program and a supportive phone call, and one group that relied only on the user's guide and an audiotape provided with the nicotine gum. Everyone received follow-up calls at six and 12 weeks. Since the quit rates for the first two groups ended up being virtually the same, the researchers just compared results between the Committed Quitters Program group and the user's guide group.

At 12 weeks, the quit rate was more than 27% for the group that used the tailored system, and nearly 18% for the standard user's guide group. That means the tailored system had a 56% better quit rate than what was previously offered.

Shiffman hopes people can learn that there is another alternative out there. "The unfortunate reality is, research shows most printed guides don't work, don't have a payoff in terms of actual success at quitting smoking, and this and other studies suggest that individually tailored guides do work."

Shiffman says the program is even easier now, because it's on the Internet "so people can enroll on the Web and the content is tailored and displayed for them instantly. ... So, being able to produce something that you can distribute and disseminate on a mass scale, and that has a real clinical impact, is a real revolution in the delivery of behavioral programs."

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