Gradual vs abrupt smoking cessation: Each has its place!


Jeff Ebel, DO,  J Fam Pract. 2017 July;66(7):419

While I agree with Smith et al’s assessment of abrupt cessation for patients in the preparation and action stages of change as created by DiClemente and Prochaska,2 most clinical patients are in the pre-contemplative and contemplative stages of change. A bias of the study was that all recruited participants were willing to quit within 2 weeks. A systematic review by the same authors (Lindson-Hawley et al) compared gradual reduction of smoking with abrupt cessation and found comparable quit rates.3 Smith et al commented that the reason for this conclusion was limitations in the studies, including differences in patient populations, outcome definitions, and types of interventions. Because a large subset of clinical patients are in the pre-contemplative and contemplative stages of change, I believe gradual cessation remains an important technique to use while patients transition their beliefs.


1. Lindson-Hawley N, Banting M, West R, et al. Gradual versus abrupt smoking cessation: a randomized, controlled noninferiority trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164:585-592.

2. DiClemente CC, Prochaska JO. Self-change and therapy change of smoking behavior: a comparison of processes of change in cessation and maintenance. Addict Behav. 1982;7:133-142. 3. Lindson-Hawley N, Aveyard P, Hughes JR. Reduction versus abrupt cessation in smokers who want to quit.

Author’s response:

I appreciate Dr. Ebel’s input and perspective. My co-authors and I acknowledge that the previous systematic review noted comparable quit rates, but there were significant limitations to the studies, which Dr. Ebel noted. The highlight from the 2016 randomized, controlled trial by Lindson-Hawley et al is that patients are more likely to quit from abrupt cessation, even if they initially prefer gradual cessation. As Dr. Ebel notes (and we highlighted in the PURL), our role as family physicians is to inform patients of the data, but support them in whatever method of cessation they choose.

Dustin K. Smith, DO
Jacksonville, Fla.