News Release

February 6, 2004

Contact: Kristina Goodnough, 860-679-3700

Treatments Can Improve Smokers' Chances of Quitting

Research Studies Underway at UConn Health Center May Help

FARMINGTON, CONN. - Quitting smoking is one of the single most important steps people can take to improve their health. Most smokers know it and want to quit. Many have a hard time succeeding.

For those who have tried and failed to quit smoking, there is still hope.

“It takes, on average, three to five serious quit attempts for a smoker to finally quit smoking,” says Cheryl Oncken, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center who conducts research on smoking cessation.

“The people who could quit on their own, cold turkey, have pretty much done so. The folks left seem to be more resistant to treatment,” says Mark Litt, Ph.D., professor of behavioral sciences at UConn Health Center who also researches smoking cessation.

Behavioral modifications are very important in helping one quite smoking, but new medications are now an integral part of the treatment for tobacco addiction. In fact, the medications can double a smoker’s chances of quitting, according to Oncken and Litt.

The treatments include nicotine gum, patches and lozenges that release nicotine gradually into the blood stream; and nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays that provide a quicker burst. They are designed to replace the nicotine from cigarettes and help reduce the withdrawal symptoms from quitting. There are also medications, like certain anti-depressants, which help to reduce cravings. Some of the aids are available over the counter; others require a doctor’s prescription. “No treatment matching studies have been done yet, so finding the best treatment can be a matter of trial and error,” says Oncken.

Oncken and Litt have the following suggestions for those who want to quit smoking:

  • Make a concrete plan. “It’s important to prepare to quit smoking,” says Litt. “Those who want to quit should set a date and make a public commitment to their goal. That means telling friends and family members that you are going to quit and then getting rid of the cigarettes and the ashtrays.”
  • Anticipate challenges and plan for them. “People should try to understand the situations in which they smoked. Once they quit, they will have urges and cravings for a cigarette and they should have a plan for coping with them,” says Oncken. If a cigarette with coffee is an important morning routine, someone trying to quit should develop a different morning routine.
  • Take advantage of the new treatments. “The medications are an important tool in treating tobacco addiction,” says Oncken. “For many people, the nicotine patch is a good idea. It’s available over the counter and stays in place all day. Others may prefer a nasal inhaler or spray they can use when the urge to smoke gets really strong.”
  • Long-term use or nicotine replacement therapy is better than smoking. “While the goal should be to use the treatments to quit, long-term use is less hazardous to health than smoking,” says Litt. That’s because the treatments don’t contain non-nicotine toxic substances like tar or carbon monoxide and they don’t produce dramatic surges in blood nicotine levels.
  • It’s never too late to quit. “The health benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate, no matter how long they have smoked,” says Litt.

Oncken and Litt are conducting research studies on smoking cessation and they are seeking volunteers to participate.

  • One study (IRB No. 02-146) is designed to find out whether nicotine gum is safe and helps pregnant women quit smoking in order to avoid serious pregnancy problems and increase the chance of having a healthy baby. Potentially eligible participants include pregnant smokers ages 16 and older who smoke 5 or more cigarettes a day. Participants will receive nicotine gum or a placebo and will be followed throughout their pregnancy. For more information, or to participate in the study, call 860-545-4199.
  • Another study (IRB. No. 02-290) provides free alcoholism treatment and smoking cessation to problem drinkers who also smoke. For more information, or to participate in the study, call 860-667-6736.
  • A third study (IRB No. 04-009) is evaluating a new medication for smoking cessation. Participants must be relatively healthy, and have not tried Wellbutrin or Zyban in the past. For more information, or to participate, call 860-679-3136.

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