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The Best Way to Stop Smoking for Good? Quit Cold Turkey

Shutting down your nicotine habit right away is more effective than prolonging the effort, according to a new study.

Ready to quit smoking? Just bite the bullet and get it over with, science says.

Dropping the habit all at once is more effective than trying to do it gradually, according to a new study published Tuesday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers sought out 700 heavy smokers in England who all wanted to quit smoking for good. The researchers asked half the group to pick a date and stop smoking right then—no wind-down ahead of the deadline. The other subjects were also asked to pick a deadline to quit, except they were also asked to gradually cut back on smoking for two weeks up until their ultimate quit day. Both groups had a little extra help: The researches gave them all nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges to use for a couple of weeks before they hit their quit day.

The results: A month after the group's respective quit days, 49% of the smokers from the "abrupt quit" group had kicked their habit, while only 39.2% of the "prolonged quit" group had quit. Those results lasted for a while, too: After 6 months, 22% of the "abrupt quit" group had stayed away from cigarettes, in comparison to 15.5% of the prolonged quit group.

Furthermore, fewer participants in the prolonged quit group actually quit on the day they were supposed to, compared with those in the abrupt group.

And while the abrupt group’s results were more promising, lead study author Nicola Lindson-Hawley, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford in England, told CNN that both results are still “quite good."

"Health care workers should offer abrupt quitting first, but if that is not an option, gradual quitting can be a second-line approach,” she said. "We understand that people might be dead set against quitting abruptly so if the only way they would consider quitting is gradually then the results of this trial suggest it shouldn't be ruled out."

There was one catch, however: A person’s attitude was a key factor behind breaking the smoking habit. In the abrupt group, 58% of the participants who wanted to quit cold turkey had remained smoke-free for 4 weeks after their quit day, compared to 42% of the participants in the abrupt group who would have preferred to quit gradually.


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