News Release

March 24, 2009

Contact: Maureen McGuire, 860-679-4523

Study Focusing on Impact of Smoking on High Blood Pressure & Two Approaches to Smoking Cessation

Funded by NIH Grant to Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center are looking for smokers who want to kick the habit and who also have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, specifically either pre-hypertension or stage one hypertension.

Through the study, the research team will measure the impact of smoking and smoking cessation on blood pressure, using a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring device, and at the same time, compare two approaches to help smokers quit. The four-year study is made possible by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to the Health Center’s Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center.

“There are a number of goals for this study,” said William B. White, M.D., professor of medicine and an internationally recognized expert in the treatment of hypertension. Dr. White has long championed the role of 24-hour monitoring to capture the most accurate picture of blood pressure fluctuations throughout the day.

“While smoking is a known and potent risk factor for heart disease and stroke, there is still more to learn about how smoking affects blood pressure, especially over a complete, 24-hour profile,” Dr. White said. “We do know that right after someone smokes a cigarette, the nicotine can raise both the blood pressure and the pulse rate, though the duration and burden that this creates is not as well known.”

“Further, when patients stop smoking and start a medicine like varenicline, we need to understand how this affects the blood pressure not only in the doctor’s office but over the course of a day in the life of a patient suffering from hypertension,” Dr. White said.

To help participants quit smoking, the study will randomly divide participants into two groups. Both will be treated with varenicline, also known as Chantix®, an FDA-approved smoking cessation medication. Several studies have shown that varenicline can more than double the chances of successfully quitting, compared to other types of treatment.

The difference between the groups will be the type of counseling participants will receive in conjunction with the medication. One group will participate in traditional, individual counseling and the other will receive a “contingency management” counseling approach.

Contingency management is an incentive-based intervention in which participants receive prizes such as vouchers or small gifts for compliance – in this case, for not smoking. It has been used to treat of variety of addictive disorders and in recent years, its success rates have gained national attention, as well as increased credibility in the medical community.

“In essence, contingency management is the same technique that parents use with children every day by rewarding good behavior. It is behavior modification and behavior shaping,” explained Nancy Petry, Ph.D., professor of medicine and an investigator of the study along with Sheila Alessi, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine.

Dr. Petry is a prominent researcher in the field of addiction treatments, including drug and gambling addictions, and a leader in contingency management research.

“Several studies have indicated that combining medical approaches with counseling can vastly improve a smoker’s chance to quit for good. This study will help to answer questions about the role of contingency management counseling in motivating smokers to stay away from cigarettes over the short term as well as the long run,” Dr. Petry added.

Study participants will be treated actively, free of charge, for at least three to six months, and will be followed for one year. Participants must be over age 18 and can already be taking medicine to reduce their blood pressure. Stage one hypertension is defined as blood pressure from 130 to 160/80 to 100.

To learn more, call 860-372-8418.

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