Study: Cold Turkey is Best for Cutting Back on Nicotine

Thursday November 15 is the ‘Great American Smokeout’ – a day designated to help smokers make a plan to quit. A recent study looked at whether cutting back the amount of nicotine in cigarettes could have a meaningful impact on health.

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CLEVELAND – Thursday November 15 is the ‘Great American Smokeout’ – a day designated to help smokers make a plan to quit.

A recent study looks at different amounts of nicotine in cigarettes and how cutting back might benefit someone’s health.

Cleveland Clinic’s Humberto Choi, M.D., did not take part in the study, but said less nicotine exposure did show more health benefits.

“The participants that had the cigarettes with the very low amount of nicotine had a lot less exposure to the toxins of the cigarettes, and they also tended to smoke less and they actually tended to quit more often,” he said.

The study was looking to determine if reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes slowly, over time, or all at once, is most beneficial.

Researchers studied a group of 1,250 smokers. Some of the smokers saw a gradual reduction in the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes, while others went ‘cold turkey’ and had an immediate reduction of nicotine.

The results showed that the smokers who had the immediate reduction of nicotine also had the greatest reduction in harmful health effects.

According to Dr. Choi, when someone quits cold turkey, there’s a very sudden drop in the level of nicotine that they’re used to in their body.

One expected effect of quitting cold turkey is that a person will undergo withdrawal symptoms, and this varies from person to person.

The study showed that even by just decreasing the levels of nicotine, some people reported having withdrawal symptoms.

Dr. Choi said quitting cold turkey isn’t for everyone, but it’s something that’s worth a try.

He said knowing how to manage withdrawal symptoms before they strike can help.

“Withdrawal is something that can be managed, if this is addressed with a health care professional, we can plan for this in advance, and find ways that we can control these symptoms, so that when someone decides to quit, it’s a better experience and more successful,” said Dr. Choi. 

Dr. Choi encourages those who want to quit smoking to make an appointment to talk with their doctor just about smoking and nothing else.

He said there are many aids available such as behavioral health, medications and patches, and each person responds differently to different treatments.

Complete result of the study can be found in JAMA.

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