Kicking the tobacco habit takes commendable effort, and there might be less help out there than previously thought. New research from the journal Tobacco Control finds that replacement therapies such as nicotine gum and patches might be ineffective in the long run. So what's the best way to stop lighting up? Here's what you should know:
What did the researchers find?
In controlled studies, "smokers who used nicotine replacement doubled their chances of quitting for more than six months," says Alice Park at TIME. But what happens in the real world? Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts tracked 787 adult smokers who had recently quit smoking. In each of three follow-ups over five years, a third of the subjects had started smoking again. And people who used nicotine replacement therapies — with or without counseling — relapsed as much as those who quit cold turkey.
What does this mean?
Americans spend more than $1.5 billion on nicotine gum, patches, and other smoking cessation products each year, but there are growing concerns about their effectiveness. This latest study's results "are in line with other studies that have found little — if any — benefit from products when used by smokers in real life," says Karen Kaplan at the Los Angeles Times. In other cases not affiliated with this study, patients who used nicotine replacements were "more likely to relapse" than those who tried to kick the habit by willpower alone.
So what's the best way to get people to quit?
Well, says Park, smoking bans in public places and price hikes "seem to be the strongest deterrents to smoking so far," helping willing smokers quit "for good." Another option is holding nicotine replacement products to a "higher standard of efficacy."