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A lit cigarette dangling from some fingers.

According to a recent U study, smokers who received telephone care were more likely to use other techniques to help them stop smoking and made more attempts to quit.

Kicking the habit with telephone counseling and care

April 25, 2006

University of Minnesota Medical School and Minneapolis VA Medical Center research shows that smokers who receive support over the telephone when trying to quit are more successful in kicking the habit than those who receive help as part of routine medical care. Lawrence An, assistant professor of medicine, and colleagues studied 837 daily smokers (751 men and 86 women) who received care at five Veterans Affairs medical centers in the Upper Midwest and were committed to quitting within one month. Half of the people in the study said they'd been smoking for more than 40 years, and half of them smoked more than 26 cigarettes a day (a typical pack has 20).

"The findings suggest that health-care providers should consider adding telephone care to their smoking cessation programs," says An. "With the telephone support, we are able to bring the service to the smokers instead of making them come to us to get help."

The smokers in the study were divided into two groups: one received self-help materials in the mail and had continued access to smoking cessation services as part of routine medical care; the other group received counseling sessions using telephone care, which consisted of seven calls over a two-month period as well as mailing of smoking medications, as appropriate, directly to their homes.

After three months in the study, about 40 percent of the telephone-care group had not smoked in the previous seven days, compared with about 10 percent of the standard-care group. At the one-year mark, 13 percent of the telephone-care group and about 4 percent of the control group had abstained from smoking for the previous six months.

"Once you have a [cessation] system in place, adding phone care is going to be beneficial," says An.

Additionally, compared to the group that received usual care, people who received telephone care were more likely to use other techniques to help them stop smoking, including smoking cessation counseling programs and medication, and made more attempts to quit.

"We were able to make a difference for people in this study because we helped smokers deal with both the habit and the addiction of smoking, and we did it in a way that was convenient for them," says An.

From a national perspective, the study lends support to the idea of a national network of support lines that would provide both phone counseling and access to free stop-smoking medications to smokers across the country.

Previous studies have shown that telephone counseling is an effective aid for helping smokers quit, adds An. One component of the U.S. national action plan for tobacco cessation is the recommendation for creating a telephone quit-line network, offering smokers across the country access to phone counseling and medications. However, the question remained whether access to telephone care would provide additional benefits when added to the physician-patient dialogue that occurs in the course of routine health care.

"Once you have a [cessation] system in place, adding phone care is going to be beneficial," says An. "We're limited in what we can do in the clinic. We're limited to brief interventions, and one of the best things we can do is get patients hooked up with programs that can give them real support and treatment over time."

The research is published in the March 13, 2006, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Hear Larry An discuss the benefits of telephone support for smokers who want to quit on the University of Minnesota Moment radio feature.