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The Natural History of Quitting Smoking
Jonathan Foulds, PhD posted:
A new research study has recently been published in the journal Addiction, by Professor Ron Borland and an international team of researchers which gives perhaps the best data on the smoking cessation process yet seen. This study conducted telephone interviews with approximately 2000 smokers in Australia, Canada, UK and USA each year from 2002 to 2008. They attempted to recall those who quit smoking in subsequent years, resulting in a sample of almost 22,000 people. At each interview, participants were asked detailed questions about their quit attempts both in the past and since their last interview. At the first wave of interviews, 82% reported having made a prior quit attempt, reaching 94% among those who participated in all 7 waves of interviews. 43% reported a quit attempt in the prior 12 months. Over a 5 year period, 69% of those starting as smokers had reported quit attempts of at least a month, and overall 16% managed to quit and remain quit for at least a year. The study shows that quit attempts are very common, with around 40% of smokers trying to quit each year, each making an average of 2 attempts per year. Thoughts of quitting that do not result in serious attempts are even more common, with an additional 30% of smokers having "serious thoughts" about quitting but not making a serious attempt. One other finding from this study is that smokers tend to forget their short-lived quit attempts, with 20% being forgotten within a year. Based on detailed analyses of their longitudinal data, the authors estimate that the average 40 year-old smoker who started smoking in their teens will have made more than 20 failed quit attempts. More than half of current smokers have succeeded in quitting for at least a month, and a majority of these for over 6 months.
This study, perhaps the most detailed of its kind, reminds us that quitting smoking is best conceptualized as a process requiring efforts, often repeated, over a long period of time, rather than as a single event.
Reference: Borland et al (2012). How much unsuccessful quitting activity is going on among adult smokers? Data from the International Tobacco Control Four Country Cohort Study. Addiction, 107, issue 3. P673-682.

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