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Phone Counseling Aids in Smoking Cessation

Study: Motivational Techniques, Personalized Skills Make It Easier for Teen Smokers to Kick the Habit
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


Oct. 12, 2009 -- Proactive telephone counseling and individually tailored motivational interviews help teen smokers kick the habit, new research indicates.

Two studies, published in the Oct. 12 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, indicate smoking-cessation programs that involve motivational techniques and personalized behavioral skills training by phone can make it easier for teens to give up the habit early.

Arthur V. Peterson, PhD, and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle designed a smoking- cessation program to evaluate the effectiveness of individualized telephone counseling.

They identified more than 2,000 smokers through classroom surveys of juniors in 50 high schools in Washington state. In half of those schools, teen smokers received smoking-cessation counseling that combined motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral skills training.

The techniques used the smoker’s own words and values to increase the importance of quitting, anticipating and coping with stress and other smoking triggers, and making plans to stop, the researchers say.

More than a year after the intervention started, nearly 22% of counseled teen smokers reported six months of abstinence, compared to almost 18% among students in a non-interventional group. For teens who were daily smokers, the difference in six-month smoking abstinence was statistically significant (10% vs. 6%).

Researchers say they found evidence that intervention made a difference, even as early as after seven days.

Kathleen Kealey, also of the Hutchinson Center’s Cancer Prevention Program, contends in a second article that the design of the study was conducive to success. Students were telephoned by trained counselors who delivered personalized smoking-cessation tips and motivational interviewing.

“Motivational interviewing is very caring, nonjudgmental, and respectful,” Kealey says in a news release. “It is non-confrontational. A counselor would never say, ‘I want you to quit smoking.’ Instead the counselor would ask what the behavior means to the participant. What do they like about it? What don’t they like about it?”

Scott Leischow, PhD, and Eva Matthews, MPH, both of University of Arizona cancer and community medicine centers, describe the success of the program as remarkable in an accompanying editorial. They credit the researchers’ success to good relationships with the school system and a rigorous implementation strategy tailored to individual students.

“When a game-changing study provides new hope for how tobacco-using youth can be treated, the collective ears of the public health community should perk to attention,” Leischow and Matthews write. The research by Peterson and colleagues, they say, is such a study.

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