e-Article - Studies of stop smoking treatments' effectiveness- how accurate or reliable are they?

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Stop Smoking Treatments or Methods . . . Do They Really Work?

How accurate or reliable are studies of their effectiveness?

Note: "Why Treat Nicotine Addiction with Nicotine?" R. T. Lovelace, 1989, inspired this article. Counselor (magazine) for Addiction Professionals published that article.

Some companies and individuals who market smoking cessation programs or products say or write, "Studies say that our product (or program) helps smokers stop 75 (whatever) percent of the time." Such statements alone mean little if anything.

The overall average rate of success of treatments - at the end of a year and counting non-respondents as "failing"- is said to be about 20 percent. (Smoking Digest, a report to the U.S. Congress) I suspect the percentage is smaller -- closer to 2 percent.

When someone who's selling a smoking cessation program or product talks with you about the percent of success, please ask some of the following questions:

  • "When you gauged the effectiveness of this smoking cessation method, had it been at least one year since the subjects last used nicotine?" Researchers should use "one year nicotine free" as the standard for measuring success. If subjects studied continued to use nicotine (whether from patches, the nicotine gum or nasal spray), that makes the results essentially useless.
  • If you were measuring the effectiveness of a treatment used for heroin addiction, you wouldn't ignore the fact that the subjects smoked heroin rather than injected it, would you?

  • "Were all subjects you didn't reach when you measured the results counted as 'treatment failures' and identified in your results that way?" Counting them as treatment failures is necessary for the study to be meaningful.
  • "Were the people who manufactured or marketed the cessation product or program also involved in collecting and analyzing the study data?" If so, that's not good. They probably didn't have the necessary objectivity. If the research wasn't done by someone else, question the results.
  • "Were those who collected or analyzed the data employed by those who made money from what's being researched?" When someone pays the researchers, it's more difficult to give results he won't like.
  • "When you questioned subjects, were they given as much opportunity to say the product (program) didn't help as to say it did?"
Questions such as, "Did you find ______________ (product or program)
    • Extremely helpful
    • Very helpful
    • Helpful
    • Not helpful?" prejudice the results in favor of the program or product.

    Avoid trusting the research.

  • "Were phone calls the primary means used to gather information from those studied?" Telephone questioning subtly puts added pressure on people to be "nice" and skew their answers to favor what's being called about.
  • "Did you have an 'attention control group' as part of your study of the treatment's rate of success?" If so, you can have more confidence in the study's results. (An attention control is a group that gets attention but doesn't get the treatment being studied.)
  • "Did you use blood testing for the presence of nicotine?" This better insures that subjects who say they haven't smoked are being up-front about it.
  • "How long did you wait after treatment to begin gathering data?" The standard is one year. Less than a year isn't long enough.

You deserve to know something closer to the truth about the successful outcomes claimed for smoking cessation methods you consider using. Avoid settling for less.


Richard T. Lovelace, Ph.D., MSW, is in clinical practice with Winston Clinical Associates - 336-722-7300 Winston-Salem, North Carolina USA

Note: Dr. Lovelace is mostly retired from clinical work and doesn't see new patients needing more than one or two sessions

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