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Long-Term Treatment May Be Best Way to Help Smokers Quit

Study Suggests That Treating Smoking Like a Chronic Disease May Help Smokers Break Habit

Benefits of Long-Term Treatment

At 18 months, 30% of the participants in the long-term group reported at least six months prolonged abstinence from cigarettes compared to 23% of those in the short-term group.

People in the long-term group also tried to quit more often over the course of the year and even among those who didn't successfully quit, they did smoke less.

The researchers concluded that incorporating failures, setting short-term goals, and continuing care was roughly 75% more effective than less intensive treatment for helping smokers become nonsmokers.

Smoking-cessation specialist Patricia Folan, RN, says treating tobacco addiction like a chronic disease makes sense.

Folan directs the Center for Tobacco Control for the North Shore LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

"We would never think of stopping treatment in a patient with high blood pressure or diabetes when they don't reach treatment goals right away," she tells WebMD. "Medical management of these chronic conditions is an ongoing process."

Tough Cases to Treat

Even among smokers who don't want to quit, a similar, although shorter plan like the one above may at least help get smokers headed in the right direction.

A separate study published in the same issue of the journal found that smokers who aren't particularly motivated to quit may find the motivation they need when offered nicotine-replacement therapy along with counseling about how to stop smoking.

Nicotine-replacement gums, lozenges, and patches along with counseling are effective for helping smokers who want to quit kick the habit. But their usefulness for helping smokers who report little desire to quit is not well known.

For the study researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston recruited close to 850 smokers who expressed no motivation to quit. They were asked to try to quit, but without the pressure of committing to quit.

Over six weeks, half the participants were given free samples of nicotine lozenges, while half were not. Both groups received counseling designed to increase their motivation and confidence in quitting.

Up to six months later, 49% of the participants who used the nicotine-replacement lozenges made at least one attempt to quit smoking compared to 40% of those who didn't receive the nicotine-therapy samples.

"We wanted to see what would happen if we gave a small supply of medication to smokers who expressed no desire to quit, and the outcome suggests that this intervention may have motivated the unmotivated to at least think about quitting," study researcher Matthew J. Carpenter, PhD, tells WebMD.

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