Quitting smoking is really difficult — there’s no denying that. Whether you’ve been smoking for 20 years or 20 days, only about four to seven percent of people are able to successfully quit without the help of medication or other treatment. Don’t let this discourage you, though. A new study has found a way to help improve smokers' chances of staying tobacco-free. The researchers found that ex-smokers who received intervention alongside their cessation medication were significantly less likely to relapse.

For their study, now published in JAMA, researchers followed 397 daily smokers, who after being forced to momentarily quit during their hospitalization, chose to continue the cessation with the help of a nicotine replacement upon discharge, a recent press release reported. Nancy A. Rigotti, the lead author of the study, told Medical Daily that smokers recently discharged from the hospital were perfect for this study because “they have had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to abstain from cigarettes for a few days.” Also it’s common for people to be motivated to change their behavior to be healthier after a stay in the hospital. “We thought it was a good opportunity. We wanted to take advantage of this teachable moment,” Rigotti added.

The study’s intervention system was actually an automated phone call, referred to as a sustained care program. The recorded female voice would call ex-smokers asking them anything from whether or not they had smoked, if they were properly using their cessation medicine, and if they would like to speak with a live person. “Essentially, it reminded people they were trying to quit. … A lot of people said it was a reminder system, a way to stay on track,” Rigotti said.

Results showed that of smokers who were recently discharged from the hospital and taking stop-smoking medication, those who received the sustained care were significantly more likely to not experience a relapse compared to those who used only the help of cessation medicine. After six months, the addition of phone call intervention to cessation drugs increased the abstinence rates by 71 percent.

At the moment, the sustained care program is used at three hospitals, but Rigotti would like to expand the programs to reach more institutions. “We are testing  to see if we can make it even better and expand it beyond just our hospital,” she said, referring to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “The idea of using technology like this is that it’s relatively cheap and targets special help to the smokers who need it and not those who can do it on their own.”

One does not need to be recently released from a hospital or have access to the automated phone call system to achieve the same results observed in the study. Two factors have been proven highly beneficial in getting smokers to quit. The first is treatment. Like the automated phone call, you can help your loved ones avoid relapse by making sure they are correctly taking their medicine and staying on it for the advised time period.

The second important factor is social support. Recovering smokers flourish with the encouragement of family and friends. Simply saying that you are proud of your loved one can help them to get back on track and stay on it. 

Source: Rigotti MA, et al. JAMA. 2014.