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Quit Smoking Programs: What’s Better—Short or Long Term?

Quitting smoking is the best thing anyone can do for their health, especially those who have COPD. In fact, quitting smoking is the only way to prevent a rapid decline in lung function and almost certain death, once you are diagnosed1.

But it’s difficult to stop smoking, even when you know you should. Some people who have COPD make efforts to cut down or quit for a while, but never quite get to a permanent break from smoking. Most people who have COPD and continue smoking have tried to quit in the past, sometimes more than once, and failed. These persistent smokers tend to be more dependent on nicotine, thus finding it harder to quit1.

In fact, smokers who have COPD have more trouble quitting than other smokers1. Clearly, we need better smoking cessation strategies for this population of smokers.

So researchers out of the University of Kansas Medical Center launched a study to see if people placed in a long-term nicotine replacement program might have greater success in quitting than those who went through the standard intensive, short-term program.

Details of the Study

Almost 400 smokers with COPD participated in the clinical trial1. About half of them were randomly placed in a traditional, 10-week nicotine replacement program. The other half was placed in an experimental, 52-week program. All participants were at least 18 years old and smoked 5 or more cigarettes a day for the last 25 out of 30 days. They also needed to have a physician’s diagnosis of COPD. About 60% were female, while the other 40% were male1.

Both groups received combination nicotine-replacement therapy, consisting of nicotine patches plus 2 mg of nicotine gum and/or lozenges. The dosage was dependent on their smoking history1.

Group One: Standard Smoking Cessation. The first group of patients was given baseline counseling focused on motivating their readiness to quit. They had to be willing to set a quit date within 6 weeks of starting the program. If they were ready, a counselor worked with them to develop a personalized quit plan. They also received a 10-week supply of nicotine replacement medication to start on their selected quit date. Follow-up telephone counseling sessions were provided at weeks 1, 3, 6 and 101.

Group Two: Long-Term Nicotine Replacement Therapy. The second group also received baseline counseling, focused more on assessing their interest in quitting. They then developed either quit plans or smoking reduction plans. They were started on nicotine replacement therapy right away and the prescription was renewed every 3 months for a year. Follow-up telephone counseling for this group occurred at weeks 1, 3, and 6 and then at 9 months after the baseline session. In addition, they received in-person counseling at months 3 and 61.

Outcome Measures

The primary outcome measure was whether the person had quit smoking for at least 7 days before being tested at month 12. Abstinence was confirmed by exhaled carbon monoxide (CO) levels1.

Secondary outcome measures included1:

  • 6-month sustained abstinence, measured by exhaled CO levels at month 6 and month 12
  • Cumulative number of 24-hour quit attempts

Other outcome measures, focused on “harm reduction” included1:

  • Cigarettes smoked per day
  • Exposure to carbon monoxide (secondhand smoke)
  • Carcinogen exposure, tested in spot urine samples

Finally, researchers also measured1:

  • Changes in pulmonary function
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Visits to the ER or hospitalization

Results of the Study

Both groups had similar outcomes. Overall, 94% of the participants completed the program through the 12 months. 95% of them completed all their counseling sessions. Use of the nicotine replacement therapies varied among both groups1.

In terms of quit rates:

  • Slightly less than 12% of the participants in the standard smoking cessation program had a CO-verified 7-day abstinence at 12 months.
  • Slightly more than 12% of those in the long term program had a CO-verified 7-day abstinence at 12 months.

The difference was not significant between the 2 groups1.

Both groups had similar improvements in respiratory symptoms over time. They also had similar numbers of visits for emergency care. And there was no real difference in their numbers of quit attempts either1.

These outcomes contrasted sharply with previous studies done with smokers who did not have COPD1. In those studies, long-term nicotine replacement therapy had much higher success rates than short-term approaches.

What Does It Mean?

So, does this mean there is no real value in a long-term approach to quitting smoking? The answer to that question is not necessarily. Heavy smokers who have COPD may be interested in having an option of reduce-to-quit programs that include a gradual tapering or cutting down of cigarettes smoked. However, the long-term approach shows no real advantage when it comes to outcomes1.

The overall low rate of smoking cessation in both groups illustrates the need for better strategies for quitting smoking. Future research might be of value if focused on:

  • Alternative delivery methods for nicotine replacement
  • Variations in counseling quantity and/or quality

Have you quit smoking, and if so, what method did you use? Please share your experiences in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Ellerbeck EF, Nollen N, Hutcheson TD, et al. Effect of Long-term Nicotine Replacement Therapy vs Standard Smoking Cessation for Smokers With Chronic Lung Disease. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(5). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1843


  • Gadget
    7 months ago

    I had smoked about 38 years, thought I could never quit. After 2 bouts of pnuemonia
    I started vaping, I loved it. But I knew it wasn’t much better than smoke. Then gradually I would cut back on the amount of nicotine, like 12mg to 8 mg, then 4. I bought a large bottle of 0 mg., online to thin out the 4, or maybe it was 2mg..
    This went on for a year and some months and I noticed I wasn’t wanting or craving a vape.
    Believe me, It was like walking out of a door into the fresh air! I just lost the desire, felt better, and saved a small fortune.
    I swore it would be impossible for me. Even after I watched my father pass away from COPD, at the age of 66, I didn’t quit for another 12 years.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    7 months ago

    COngratulations Gadget,
    You have done it. I too, thought I would never quit but I finally achieved my goal and now you have too. I love you analogy of feeling like you opened the door to a breathe of fresh air. It does truly feel like that. I felt like I probably added years to my life.
    Barbara (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi Gadget and thanks for your post. I will underscore what Alesandra said (below) in admiration of your successful effort to finally stop smoking. Congratulations and keep up the good work! Quitting smoking can be a real challenge for anyone, and everyone who does quit, does so in their own way and their own time frame. We appreciate you sharing just how you did it – hopefully it will inspire others to take on the challenge for themselves. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    7 months ago

    Gadget, thanks so much for sharing with us. It truly is a difficult task to quit smoking entirely, but at your own pace and through your own method you did it! It’s a serious accomplishment, so I commend you on doing so and hope you feel the same. I’m so sorry to hear you lost your father. I’m thinking of you both today. Thanks so much for being here with us! – Alesandra ( Team)

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