cigarette abrupt stop
To stop smoking, quitting suddenly works better than reducing consumption Bloomberg/Getty Images

Quitting smoking in one go is more effective than progressively cutting down on cigarettes, scientists from Oxford University have shown. Published in Annals of Internal Medicine, their study acknowledges the fact that one of the most common tactics to stop smoking is by slowly reducing the quantity of daily cigarettes.

The researchers wanted to investigate if this approach worked, especially since most addiction experts recommended stopping in one go. Their findings suggest that, 39% of smokers who chose this strategy managed to keep away from tobacco after a set quit date, compared to 49% of those who decide to abruptly end their habit.

Cutting down, a struggle

In total, 697 volunteers, who had taken the decision to stop smoking, participated in the study. They were divided into two groups, one choosing a quit date and stopping all consumption on that day ("abrupt stop" group), while the other reduced smoking in the two weeks leading up to the chosen quit date ( "gradual cessation" group).

Both groups were given support and counselling, and researchers assessed the success of the two methods weekly, during four weeks after quit date, and six months after. During this follow-up period, the researchers noted that the "abrupt stop" group were 25% more likely to refrain from smoking than the "gradual cessation" group, even though they had received the same counselling. Such differences were visible from the first day after both groups quit.

According to lead author Dr Nicola Lindson-Hawley, this was because, despite their best intentions, people actually struggled to cut down. "It provided people with an extra thing to think about, which may have put them off quitting altogether... More people preferred the idea of quitting gradually than abruptly; however regardless of what they thought, they were still more likely to quit in the abrupt group", she explained.

Promoting both options

Yet, these results do not mean only one strategy should always be held up over another. For people who are not yet convinced they can stop smoking, reducing the consumption of cigarettes before actually quitting remains a viable option.

"We found that at the start of the study many people cannot imagine being able to stop completely. For these people it is much better to attempt to cut down their smoking than do nothing at all and we should increase support for gradual cessation to increase their chances of succeeding", stressed Lindson-Hawley.