Smokers trying to quit may have a better chance of success if they let the clock tell them when to have a cigarette.
The strategy proved twice as successful in the long term as quitting cold turkey according to a study reported in the June issue of The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
The timed reduction strategy assigns smokers specific times of day for lighting up. The schedule gradually lengthens the intervals between cigarettes until a smoker quits altogether.
“They’re still going to get to smoke, they’re just not going to get to smoke when they want to smoke,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Paul Cinciripini, director of the smoking-cessation program at the University of Texas’s M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
By repeatedly putting their nicotine urges on hold for manageable periods, smokers gain practice and self-confidence for after they quit altogether, Dr. Cinciripini said.
The researchers studied two versions of the clock strategy. The better result came from forcing smokers to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes smoked, rather than maintaining their normal level of consumption before quitting.
In the study of 128 smokers, the clock strategy was part of a nine-week program that also taught how to resist the urge to smoke.
First, researchers took the number of cigarettes each smoker consumed per day and scheduled smoking to occur at regular intervals. A person who usually smoked 30 cigarettes a day and stayed awake for 15 hours, for example, got smoking times that allowed one cigarette every half-hour. Smokers had to light up within five minutes of the scheduled time. If they missed it, they could not make it up later.
The next week, their schedule was adjusted to allow one-third fewer cigarettes. The week after that brought another one-third cut. And the week after that, the consumption was reduced again to an average of three or four cigarettes a day. Then came the target date for quitting.
Smokers who used that strategy showed a 44 percent success rate one year after the smoking program ended.