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New Year’s Message from Yale to Smokers Who Want to Quit: Stay Positive


New Haven, Conn. — Over the past seven years a series of studies have shown that free telephone quitlines help people stop smoking. Now a new study by researchers at Yale Cancer Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, published online Jan. 7 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), suggests that giving more positive messages about the benefits of quitting might prove even more beneficial.

In 2007, Yale researchers led by Benjamin Toll, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Provost Peter Salovey, the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, reported that in conjunction with anti-depressants, so-called “gain-framed” messages—“you will live longer if you quit smoking” —were more effective in helping people quit than “loss-framed” messages—“you will die sooner if you continue smoking.”

“If we can change quitlines in any way to improve their services, we stand a chance of making a pretty broad change in prevalence rates of smoking, and of course down the line, we hope, in cancer rates,” said Toll, lead author of the paper.

The researchers at Yale and collaborators at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute wondered if these positive messages would make telephone quitlines even more effective. Services such as the New York State Smokers’ Quitline offer people nicotine replacement therapy and counseling sessions to help them quit. The researchers conducted a study of more than 2000 people using the New York quitline to see whether they could train telephone counselors to give the gain-framed counseling and whether the addition of positive messages would translate to improved abstinence rates.

They found that after two weeks, 23.3 percent of those exposed to more positive messages had achieved abstinence from cigarettes compared to 12.6 percent who received standard phone counseling with fewer gain-based messages.

Although the difference in abstinence rates narrowed to only two percent after three months, Toll believes that this difference is clinically meaningful and adding gain-based messages to such programs can have a significant impact in helping millions of smokers who want to put down cigarettes.

“Quitlines are an incredible resource to the smokers in this country who want to quit but are struggling to do so,” Toll said. “This study shows that we should be scientifically testing novel counseling methods delivered via quitlines in an attempt to improve quit rates.”


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