Today is the American Cancer Society's 37th-annual Great American Smokeout, and if you're trying to quit, new research shows that the nicotine patch or prescription drugs work much better than trying this cold turkey.
The international study, published in the journal Addiction, found that some quitting aids are linked to four- to six-fold-higher success rates, Reuters reported. Older smokers, in particular, are more likely to seek help from these aids, while younger smokers try to quit without any help.
"Smokers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States are more likely to succeed in quit attempts if they use ... [drugs or the] nicotine patch," wrote study leader Karin Kasza, with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, yet about 43.8 million Americans still smoke cigarettes - nearly one of every five adults.
Previous studies have shown mixed results regarding how well stop-smoking medication works. The meds seemed to be effective in clinical trials but weren't always successful when people used them in real life. This study was one of the largest real-world evaluations of medications such as the nicotine patch, bupropion (an antidepressant) and a drug called varenicline, which blocks nicotine's effect on the brain.
Kasza and her team surveyed more than 7,400 smokers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom between 2002 and 2009. Those who said they were trying to quit were then tracked every six months to see whether they had been successful.
Among those who used no medication to quit, 5 percent managed to stay smoke-free for six months. In comparison, 18 percent of nicotine-patch users, 15 percent of people who used buproprion and 19 percent of those who used varenicline stayed off cigarettes for six months, according to Reuters. The researchers wrote that there were no clear results for those who used oral products, like nicotine gum.
The researchers took into account factors that could affect people's success, such as how long and how heavily they had smoked. They then determined that, compared with quitting cold turkey, those who used buproprion or the nicotine patch were four times as likely to be successful at stopping for at least six months. Those who took varenicline were six times more successful at kicking the habit.
Kasza noted that the study doesn't prove the stop-smoking aids work - just that people who use them have more success at quitting. "The disappointing reality is that even when people use these medications to help them quit, relapse is still the norm. It's better than nothing, but it's by no means a magic bullet," Kasza said.
On the bright side, Medicare now covers free counseling help for older smokers who want to quit.
For additional advice on quitting, read a "Guide to Quitting Smoking" from the American Cancer Society.