While surveys consistently show that more than 3 out of 4 smokers would like to quit, only about 10 percent of those who try each year are successful.

Fortunately, new studies show one way to raise those numbers is to treat smoking as a chronic disease — like high blood pressure — for which long-term treatment is offered.

Researchers enrolled smokers who wanted to quit and then randomly put them into two groups — one had the standard eight weeks of counseling and nicotine replacement, and the second had the same followed by an additional 48 weeks of counseling and treatment as needed.

While quitting was the ultimate long-term goal for both groups, setbacks were considered part of the process for the smokers in the long-term group and counselors worked with them to help put them back on track.

“Instead of treating a smoking relapse as a failure, it was seen as a step in the process,” says study researcher Anne M. Joseph, MD, of the University of Minnesota. “Cutting back to five or ten cigarettes a day might be considered progress toward the goal for someone who was previously a pack-a-day smoker.”

After 18 months, 30 percent of participants in the long-term group reported at least six months without smoking compared to 23 percent of those in the short-term group. Even among those who didn’t successfully quit, those in the long-term group tried to quit more often over the course of the year and wound up smoking less overall.

Smoking-cessation specialist Patricia Folan, RN, says treating tobacco addiction like a chronic disease makes sense. “We would never think of stopping treatment in a patient with high blood pressure or diabetes when they don’t reach treatment goals right away,” she says. “Medical management of these chronic conditions is an ongoing process.”

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