Quit-Smoking Programs Show Their Power

New Evidence That Programs Help Lower Death Rate, Even for Those Who Don't Stop Smoking

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 14, 2005 -- Smoking will wreck your health, but if you're a smoker, don't despair. You could give yourself a new lease on life before May.

All you have to do is sign up for a stop-smoking program -- today. Ten weeks later, you could have slashed your chances of developing not only lung cancer, but also heart disease and other cancers. Bottom line: Your risk of premature death will be drastically lower than it is right now.

It's hard to quit smoking. Most people have to try a couple of times before they succeed. But those weeks are going to go by anyway. You might as well use that time to your advantage, even if you fall off the wagon.

So says a study in the Feb. 15 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. It's the latest evidence of the power of quitting smoking and its effects on reducing death rates. Smoking is the single most avoidable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Putting Quit-Smoking Programs to the Test

How much benefit can quit-smoking programs offer? How about keeping the Grim Reaper away from your door for a couple of extra decades?

More than 5,800 smokers aged 35 to 60 participated in the study. All considered themselves healthy. None were obese or heavy drinkers, and none had high blood pressure.

Participants were followed for more than 14 years by the researchers, who included Nicholas Anthonisen, MD, of Canada's University of Manitoba.

They were assigned to either undergo a 10-week smoking-cessation program or to get ordinary medical care without the stop-smoking program.

The smoking-cessation program included 12 two-hour group sessions, behavior modification that stressed coping skills, and the use of nicotine gum. Doctors also delivered a strong message about smoking.

For those who quit smoking, the next step was a maintenance program that continued to emphasize coping skills.

Death Stalks Smokers Who Don't Try to Quit

During the study, 731 participants died. Lung cancer caused the most deaths (33%). Heart disease came in second, with 22% of deaths. Other cancers caused 21% of deaths, and 7.8% of deaths were due to respiratory problems other than cancer.

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Participants in the program were also more likely to have kicked the cigarette habit. After five years, 22% of the stop-smoking program graduates had been cigarette-free since the study's start compared with 5.4% of those who hadn't taken the stop-smoking program.

Though only 22% of participants actually quit, those who had gone through the quit-smoking program fared best. Their death rate was lower than those who hadn't participated in the same program. Annually, 8.8 smokers per 1,000 in the quit-smoking program died vs. 10.4 smokers per 1,000 in the ordinary care group.

The researchers say smoking-cessation programs substantially reduce death rates even though few patients stop smoking.

The difference in death rates was most striking for smokers younger than 45.

The findings are a reminder that "smoking kills middle-aged people," writes Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, in an Annals of Internal Medicine editorial. That's more than 20 years too early.

"Persons who die in middle age lose over 23 years of life on average," writes Samet, who's on staff at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Smoking cessation prolongs life."

The researchers estimate that an equivalent smoking-cessation program would cost about $2,000. That's a small investment for a longer life, they write. Over 23 years, that's less than a quarter per day.

Speedy Results Seen

When you quit smoking, your body will start to respond almost right away, say Japanese researchers in another study.

Participants were 27 young male medical students. They had all smoked at least 15 cigarettes per day for more than five years. Half were randomly assigned to quit smoking for 28 days. The rest were instructed to ditch their cigarettes for 14 days. After that, they were free to start smoking again.

Blood platelet function improved almost right away when the men stopped smoking. That could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke caused by blood clots. But as soon as the participants lit up again, the advantage vanished.

"Our results may provide some motivation for smokers to quit smoking," write Kurume University medical school's Hirohiko Morita, MD, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Feb. 15 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

WebMD Health News

Sources

SOURCES: Anthonisen, N. Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 15, 2005; vol 142: pp 233-239. Samet, J. Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 15, 2005; vol 142: pp 299-301. Morita, H. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Feb. 15, 2005; vol 45: pp 589-94. News release, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. News release, American College of Cardiology.
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