New Study Evaluates Impact of Smoking Cessation Aids and Mass Media

February 22, 2006 – Most smokers want to quit, but even among those who try, less than 5% manage to stop smoking for more than three months. There is a major ongoing effort to encourage quitting, the National Action Plan for Tobacco Cessation. This comprehensive plan has six main initiatives, only one of which, a national telephone quit line, has been implemented to date. To evaluate the effectiveness of various strategies, researchers identified 787 people who had quit smoking in the past two years and asked them what had worked for them.

The results, reported in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, evaluated the effect of televised ad campaigns promoting quitting and seven conventional types of cessation help; nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), prescribed medications, professional help or advice, self-help materials, cessation programs, telephone quit line, or web-based cessation sites. The impact of a particular quitting aid is measured by multiplying the efficacy rate by its participation rate or penetration into the population. For example, Method A might not be as effective as Method B for individual smokers, but if Method A reaches 90% of all smokers and Method B reaches only 5%, Method A might be the better choice as part of a national program.

The study showed that television advertisements were found to be the most helpful in the quitting process, particularly those featuring smoking-related illnesses or inspirational quit tips. Because the TV ads reached many more smokers, these ads helped more people to quit (30.5%) than any of the other methods. NRT helped 20.8%, professional help affected 11.1%, and telephone quit lines helped fewer than one percent of the quitters.

Lead author Lois Biener, PhD, Center for Survey Research, University of Massachusetts Boston, states, “These findings suggest that the resources being devoted to the quit line would be better spent if used for a national anti-tobacco media campaign. Anti-smoking ads on television are likely to be the sole source of support for quitting smoking among young adults, who make less use of traditional forms of quitting assistance. It is noteworthy that the illness ads, body bags, and inspirational quit tips were the types of ads deemed helpful by most quitters. What these ads appear to have in common is that all tend to arouse high levels of emotion. The fact that such ads are spontaneously recalled by successful quitters as the ones instrumental in their success provides confirmation for previous studies that noted the superior effectiveness of emotionally arousing ads….”

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute's Tobacco Research Initiative for State and Community Interventions (TRISCI).

The article is "Impact of Smoking Cessation Aids and Mass Media Among Recent Quitters” by Lois Biener, PhD, Rebecca L. Reimer, BA, Melanie Wakefield, PhD, Glen Szczypka, BA, Nancy A. Rigotti, MD, and Gregory Connolly, DMD, MPH. It appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 30, Issue 3 (March 2006).

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