Study shows effectiveness of stop-smoking programs

The study focused on the death rate of smokers with a mild form of lung disease.

Naomi Scott

Middle-aged smokers who were assigned to a program to help them quit smoking had a lower death rate than those not in the program, according to a study by University researchers.

The smokers assigned to an intensive program created by the study’s researchers had a lower death rate, even though most of them did not end up permanently quitting, according to the study, which was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.

The annual death rate for people who participated in the program to quit smoking was 8.8 per 1,000. It was 10.4 per 1,000 for those not in the program.

That’s probably because many program participants who didn’t quit smoking altogether quit for a while when they were in the program, the report stated.

John Connett, an author of the study and professor of biostatistics with the University’s School of Public Health, said the study offers more convincing evidence than previous studies that smoking shortens a person’s life.

“(The study) gives doctors and HMOs more ammunition to push for smoking-cessation programs,” he said.

Connett cited an editorial about the study, also published in the journal, which said previous studies have not shown the effect smoking-cessation programs have on mortality.

The study divided 5,887 middle-aged smokers with mild lung disease into two groups. Connett said participants were smoking approximately 1 1/2 packs, or 30 cigarettes, per day.

One group participated in an aggressive cessation program, which offered group sessions, nicotine gum and follow-up doctor visits to the patients, he said.

The other group’s participants were not offered the program but could get usual care from their doctors.

The death rate for people in the program was 15 percent lower than the rate for the group receiving usual care, even though only approximately 22 percent permanently quit, the study said.

Connett said the results proved even quitting for a short period of time can have a beneficial effect on lung function.

Melissa Skeans, another author of the study and research fellow in the division of biostatistics, said the treated group benefited more than the untreated, even though most in the treated group didn’t quit.

The reduction in death rate was most significant in younger people – ages 35 to 45 – Connett said.

While current guidelines suggest smokers older than 45 should get screened for abnormal lung function, Connett said, he hopes the study will encourage health-care providers and organizations to screen at earlier ages.

Eric Stafne, the director of the Tobacco Use Cessation Program at the School of Dentistry, said that despite smoking-cessation programs, the majority of middle-aged smokers are “not in the least bit interested in quitting” because they are “tremendously addicted.”

Besides being physically addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, middle-aged smokers have developed routines in their daily lives that accompany their tobacco use, which makes quitting difficult, he said.