Cold Turkey More Effective Than Smoking Aids
UCSD School of Medicine researchers studying tobacco addiction found that the range of pharmaceutical and anti-smoking aids available in the last decade has not increased the number of successful quitters. Their results will be published in the Annual Review of Public Health.Written by Javier Armstrong
05 February 2012
The study, led by professor of family and preventive medicine John P. Pierce, reviewed studies of tobacco addiction conducted within the last 20 years.
Researchers analyzed the effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs, as well as nicotine gum and the patch, but found none of these aids have been significantly successful.
“We looked at smokers that had quit before 35, before 50 and before 65,” Pierce said. “If you quit before 35, we think you can avoid as high as 90 percent of the consequences of smoking. If you quit before 50, you can avoid at least half of them, and if you quit before 65 you can avoid at least a quarter.”
According to the paper, increasing numbers of smokers successfully quit at different ages during the 20-year period analyzed. The number of people who quit before 35 was higher every year, but the numbers leveled off in the late 1990s, suggesting the number of successful quitters had plateaued.
The researchers noticed this trend within all three age groups, indicating that fewer people were successfully quitting.
“It isn’t that the drugs don’t work,” Pierce said. “It’s that people think they don’t have to try that hard anymore.”
Pierce said that there is evidence that pharmaceutical drugs such as the patch are successful in clinical trials, but the results are not showing up in the general population. He said that the data does not show there have been more quitters even though researchers are seeing more and more people using these products.
“Marketing says put on a patch and you’ll quit, but it’s a nicotine addiction — you can’t cure a nicotine addiction with nicotine,” Pierce said. “What you can do is dull the withdrawal symptoms while you do something else about it.
Pierce said his research showed that the most successful group of quitters are those who quit without any assistance.
“You must incorporate behavior change,” Pierce said. “You must build up the motivation — this is one of the hardest things you will ever do and then really go for it. Unless you’re doing that, the nicotine patch is probably not going to help you.” Pierce said that an increase in people who attempt to quit has not translated to higher success stories. The increased availability of quitting aids has not shown to be effective, according to Pierce.
“The policy at the moment says get a drug,” Pierce said. “Yet the results we found show that 60 percent of successful quitters do it on their own.” Pierce said the current policy is not beneficial because it discourages people from quitting on their own. “There will be a lot of discussion on this topic, at the next World Conference on Tobacco or Health,” Pierce said.