May 26, 2009 -- As every smoker knows, it's incredibly hard to quit, but
help might be as close as the keyboard on your computer, new research
Web- and computer-based smoking-cessation programs,
including some that are interactive, seem to be effective, shows a study in the
Archives of Internal Medicine.
Such methods are cost-effective alternatives to telephone hotlines or
counseling services, study researcher Joel Moskowitz, PhD, tells WebMD.
Moskowitz is director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the
University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.
These web-based programs generally help users evaluate the benefits of
quitting tobacco, telling them "how much money you'll save, how much longer
you'll live," he says. "They set up rewards for smokers. Some are discussion
forums, like blogs. On some you can post pictures. Some have hundreds of
thousands of people coming in and going out."
"Some have 'quit meters' you can download to your desktop," Moskowitz says.
"They help you track how long you've quit. It's important to have immediate
reinforcement, to make a public commitment."
The researchers analyzed pooled data from 22 trials in which smokers
enrolled in web- or computer-based smoking-cessation programs, and smokers who
quit without them. The trials had data on almost 30,000 participants, including
16,050 who were randomly assigned to a web- or computer-based program. The
trials were conducted in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, and
Although cessation rates at three months were similar between the two
groups, the researchers found that 9.9% managed to stay away from smoking for a
year after the web- or computer-based cessation programs, compared to 5.7% who
were not enrolled in a computer- or web-based program.
Data spanned 19 years and included three to 12 months' worth of follow-up
"Currently, Web and computer-based smoking cessation programs are
not commonly recommended because evidence of their effectiveness has been
inconsistent," study researcher Seung-Kwon Myung, MD, staff physician at the
Smoking Cessation Clinic at the National Cancer Center in South Korea, says in
a news release. "But our review of the evidence to date suggests that Web and
computer-based programs have a legitimate place in tobacco dependence treatment
Myung, who conducted research while a visiting scholar at Berkeley, says
computer-based programs won't necessarily supplant existing treatment options,
such as medications or counseling. But they could help people
who can't afford to pay for treatment or who are concerned about the stigma
associated with seeking treatment.
Moskowitz tells WebMD that many smokers may prefer computer or web systems
over face-to-face or person-to-person phone counseling sessions to avoid
"Some of these programs give immediate reinforcement, and that's important,"
Moskowitz says. And computer programs can easily be translated into many
languages, which means they could benefit a diverse group of people.