Ready to quit smoking?
Try going cold turkey
BY KEN MILLSTONE
Columbia News Service
NEW YORK - Sheri Odom started trying to quit smoking in her mid-20s. At least once a year she would pick up a supply of nicotine patches or nicotine gum, throw out her cigarettes and steel herself to quit.
She would put up with the "slow torture" of the patch or gum regimen, gradually reducing the nicotine dosage. When she finished the treatment and stopped using the product, she would be cranky and irritable. Within three days, she would be smoking again; once, a boyfriend even bought cigarettes for her on the second day.
So Odom, a special-education teacher in Springfield, Mo., changed tactics. She decided that those three days -- the first three without any nicotine -- were going to be bad no matter what. She joined a support group on the Internet, read about nicotine addiction and quit cold turkey in late 2004, while spending Christmas with her family. She figured they would understand if she were cranky.
With the patch, "You're putting off the inevitable that you have to go through anyway, which is the withdrawal from nicotine," said Odom, 40. "I think cold turkey, just from my experience, was the easiest. I just got it over with all at once."
Odom is part of a growing movement of cold-turkey quitters who say that nicotine patches, gums and lozenges merely draw out a quitter's withdrawal symptoms while feeding the addiction.
A leading advocate of cold-turkey quitting is the Web site whyquit.com. The site encourages smokers to educate themselves thoroughly about nicotine addiction and then quit without first cutting down or using medication.
The site includes links to dozens of studies questioning the effectiveness of products like the patch and gum, collectively known as nicotine replacement therapy. An American Cancer Society report in 2003 found that nearly 80 percent of ex-smokers said they quit cold turkey. Another study found that 93 percent of over-the-counter nicotine replacement users relapse and begin smoking again within six months.
With nicotine replacement therapy, "The levels of long-term success are dismal," said Michael Siegel, a physician and professor at Boston University's School of Public Health. "More importantly, I think that the role of nicotine replacement therapy as part of a national policy to address smoking cessation has been over emphasized... Quitting cold turkey has been the most effective way of quitting smoking."
Quitters like Odom and researchers like Siegel may be shouting into the wind, however. Nicotine replacement therapy is recommended by virtually every government agency and major health organization trying to help people quit, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cancer Society.
The surgeon general's Web site states, "The most effective way to quit smoking is by using a combination of counseling and nicotine replacement therapy" or medicines like Zyban. The clinical practice guidelines established by the U.S. Public Health Service in 2000 say that all eligible patients should use drug therapies.
Still, traffic to whyquit.com has grown steadily. John Polito, the site's founder, believes many of those visitors feel the studies and quitting advice on the site confirm their own experiences -- that quitters who used nicotine replacement return to smoking.
© 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.