Study: Quit Smoking, Don't Cut Back

No Health Perks Seen in Study of Smokers Who Cut Heavy Smoking by Half

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 28, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 28, 2006 -- If you're a heavy smoker, cutting back on cigarettes may not be drastic enough to boost your health.

Instead, you may be better off quitting smoking completely.

That's the key finding of a study in the December edition of Tobacco Control.

Cutting back on cigarettes "does not seem to bring about harm reduction" in heavy smokers, write the researchers.

The study comes from Norway's Aage Tverdal, PhD, and Kjell Bjartveit, MD, PhD, MPH.

Tverdal works at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Bjartveit works at Norway's National Health Screening Service.

About the Study

The study included more than 51,000 adults in Norway.

When the study started in the mid-1970s, participants were 20-49 years old (average age: mid-40s) and reported no history of heart disease.

The group included 6,570 people who were heavy smokers; they said they smoked 15 or more cigarettes daily.

All participants got a checkup at the study's start and another checkup three to 13 years later. The participants were followed until 2003.

A total of 475 heavy smokers said they had cut back on their cigarette consumption by more than half.

Those participants showed no drop in death, heart disease, or smoking-related cancer, compared with heavy smokers who didn't cut back on cigarettes or those who cut back to a lesser extent.

Researchers' Views

The researchers say cutting back on smoking "may have a place" as a temporary health measure for heavy smokers.

But they urge heavy smokers to go for a completely smoke-free life.

It may give people "false expectations" to suggest that cutting back -- but not quitting -- cigarettes has long-term health advantages, the researchers note.

They add that their study might have been stronger if they had had information on participants' smoking habits toward the end of the study.

Ready to Quit?

Here are 14 tips from the CDC for people who want to quit smoking.

  • Set a date to quit smoking.
  • Get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays at home, work, and in your car.
  • Don't let people smoke around you.
  • Review your past attempts to quit. Think about what worked and what didn't.
  • Once you quit, don't smoke -- not even a puff.
  • Get support and encouragement from friends and family.
  • Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking.
  • Consider getting individual or group counseling to help quit smoking.
  • Consider getting counseling by telephone at (800) QUIT-NOW ((800) 784-8669).
  • Try to distract yourself from urges to smoke.
  • Do something to reduce your stress -- try exercise or reading.
  • Plan something enjoyable to do every day.
  • Drink a lot of water and other fluids.
  • Be prepared for relapse or difficult situations.

If you start smoking again, don't give up. It often takes several attempts to quit smoking for good.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Tverdal, A. Tobacco Control, December 2006; vol 15: pp 472-480. CDC: "How and Why to Quit Smoking Today."

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