Quitting Smoking Overnight Is Better Than Doing it Gradually

By Kiwiev (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you want to stop smoking? Forget trying to do it by cutting down. If you really want to quit smoking, kicking the habit cold turkey is still the best option, so says the headline from the Mail Online. The news website reports on a trial done by UK-based researchers which aimed to assess whether it’s better to stop smoking through tapering down gradually or just stopping abruptly.

The Study

The researchers included about 700 people and randomly assigned them to a gradual or abrupt stop in using cigarettes. After a month, 39.2 percent of participants who had gradually stopped smoking were still abstinent, when compared with 49 percent that stopped smoking abruptly. Both groups had access to nicotine replacement therapy, such as gum or patches, after the quit date. At six months, the proportion of participants who remained smoke-free had reduced to 15.5 percent in the gradual group and 22 percent in the abrupt group.

The findings of this study hold promise, but quitting smoking “cold turkey” as the headline suggested, might not work for everyone.
That being said, setting a designated “quit day” can be very helpful, as you can put into play some effective strategies that might improve your chances of quitting.

Where Did the Study Come From?

The study was performed by researchers from the University of Oxford, University College London, and the University of Birmingham. Funding for the study was provided by the British Heart Foundation, and results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research has been presented accurately in the media. However, there’s been no mention of the reduction in people remaining abstinent at 6-months or whether the method recommended is good for long-term smoking cessation.

The press coverage does explain that for those who find it hard to stop smoking, it’s better to attempt to cut down on smoking than to continue smoking indefinitely and not trying anything to stop.
Many of the reports include the phrase “cold turkey.” This is not helpful because it implies that individuals who stop smoking abruptly have no help available to allow them to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

The research was done through a randomized controlled trial and it aimed to assess the success of stopping smoking through a gradual method, and comparing it to abruptly stopping. This type of design is best for reviewing such methods, as in theory the groups should be balanced for potential confounders and the differences in outcome are the result of the methods used.


This was a well-designed randomized controlled trial which sought to discover the best method for smoking cessation.

The trials strengths include the design, methods and analysis used. As the authors said, limitations are that the sample is not representative of the UK’s ethnic mix, as non-white groups only comprised 6% of the trial population.

If you are interested in quitting smoking, contact the American Lung Association or speak to your physician to discover which method would work best for you.


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