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Smoking: Most effective quitting technique little known

Guess which method of quitting works best

Smoking is a powerful addiction as I know from personal experience. It remains one of the biggest causes of preventable health problems. There are many useful products and drugs that help smokers to quit. Yet, the most effective technique is virtually unknown.

When a smoker wakes up to the fact that they have a dangerous addiction and decide to quit, what are their chances of success? For most, failure is more likely than success.

According to voluminous research distilled in the U.S. public health services report, "Treating tobacco use and dependence," a person's chances of remaining tobacco free a year after quitting independently are only one in twenty. By using nicotine replacement (whether patch, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, or inhaler) a person trebles their chance of quitting - to 15 percent, or approximately one person in seven. Combining the nicotine patch and inhaler boosts the success rate to one in five (19.5 percent).

Substantially better results are produced by using Zyban, a prescription antidepressant that has a success rate of 30 percent. This provides an interesting insight into why people smoke. Combining the antidepressant with nicotine replacement boosts success to 35.5 percent. Another prescription drug, Chantix, acts on nicotine receptors in the brain and has received adverse publicity as a possible suicide risk. Its one-year success rate is 22 percent.

Interestingly, many smokers have never even heard of the most effective quitting approach - aversion therapy. If smoking persists because it is pleasurable, associating puffing with mild electric shock, and nausea, takes the pleasure out of it in a procedure known as counter conditioning that is offered by the Schick-Shadel Treatment Centers in Seattle.

After Shick-Shadel aversion therapy, 52.5 percent of 327 people were still off tobacco after a year. Unfortunately, due to its unpleasant connotations, drug companies and treatment facilities seem unwilling to promote it. Other studies of aversion therapy produced more modest results.

To date, aversion therapy using shock and nausea is the only technique of quitting that offers decent gambling odds. For all others, substantially more quitters fail than succeed. Still there are no limits on how often a person can try to quit. With persistence anyone can give up smoking.

More from Nigel Barber Ph.D.
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