Study: Going cold turkey most effective way to quit cigarettes


An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers say that data shows that quitting cigarettes — and nicotine — cold turkey is basically the most effective way to get off cigarettes.

The article doesn’t specifically talk about e-cigarettes, patches or nicotine gum, but says that trying to slowly wean oneself off nicotine, rather than just committing fully to a quit date and going through with it is not as effective.

From the article:

An article published March 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests going “cold turkey” is linked to the highest level of long-term smoking cessation success—smokers in the study who quit abruptly were 25 percent more likely to stop smoking completely over the long term.

The study involved 697 adult smokers whose primary end goal was to become a nonsmoker; some would try to quit abruptly and the other half would try to stop smoking gradually. (Study participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups.) After receiving counseling from a nurse, study participants in the abrupt cessation group selected a quit date. Participants in the gradual smoking cessation group arranged to reduce their smoking by 75 percent over the course of two weeks prior to the quit date they selected, also after counseling with a nurse. All study participants in both groups received nicotine therapies such as patches, lozenges and other products to help curb cigarette cravings.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

The researchers found that by the fourth week, 39.2 percent of gradual cessation group abstained from cigarettes versus 49 percent of those who went cold turkey. At six months, 15.5 percent of the participants in the gradual cessation group had completely stopped smoking compared with 22 percent of those who quit right away.

Previous research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggests gradual cessation isn’t very effective because people who choose to slowly wean themselves off nicotine may be tempted to prolong smoking a little longer and drag out the process of quitting. Another study in Addiction finds that in order for gradual cessation programs to work, the motivation to quit actually really needs to exist; smokers who select this type of plan may not be completely committed to giving up cigarettes.

Twenty-two percent after six months sounds pretty grim, but having known so many people who have tried to quit smoking, I’m not surprised at that figure. It usually takes two, three, four or more attempts to quit to finally succeed. I think my brother made at least half a dozen attempts and failed repeatedly until he finally managed to quit (smokefree for about 18 months now).

Again, this study doesn’t talk about the effectiveness of gum, patches and e-cigs (smokers can ratchet down the nicotine intake with e-cigs), but I don’t doubt the results one bit. Ultimately, to quit, you simply have to get off the nicotine and stay off it, for weeks or months, before the cravings go away.  This is one reason, despite the reams and reams of anecdotal evidence I’ve read online about e-cigs, (which I actually  respect), that I remain skeptical of e-cigs’ effectiveness in getting people off cigarettes. Because e-cigs are not getting people off the nicotine.

Again, I believe there is no one right way to quit cigarettes — what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another person. Whatever it takes. But, it appears simply setting a date and going “cold turkey” is the most effective way, at least according to this study.