UCL News


Smokers who stop ' on a whim' more likely to succeed

27 January 2006

People who stop smoking "on a whim" are more likely to kick the habit in the longer term than those who plan to do it, researchers say today.

Nearly two thirds of smokers who made unplanned attempts to stop were not smoking six months later compared with 42 per cent of smokers who planned attempts.

Those who stopped suddenly were twice as likely not to be smoking after six months and in the following five years. …

[Professor] Robert West (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health], who analysed the results of the survey, says in the ' British Medical Journal'  that ' catastrophe theory'  might explain the findings. Catastrophe theory in mathematics proposes that when tensions develop in systems even small events can trigger a catastrophe.

"We propose that beliefs, past experiences and the current situation create varying levels of motivational tension, in the presence of which even quite small triggers can lead to renunciation of smoking.

"Where they lead, instead, to a plan for later action, this may signify a lower level of commitment," he says.

Professor West said yesterday that the results did not mean that smokers should never plan ahead when considering stopping.

"But they do tell us something about the state of mind of the smoker who wants to quit. Dissatisfaction with being a smoker creates a kind of tension," he said.

"Tension is created through smoke-free legislation, price increases and health warnings. But we also need to flood the smoker' s world with triggers - like short sharp TV advertisements - calling on smokers to take immediate action if they feel ready to quit."

Celia Hall, ' The Daily Telegraph' , 27 January 2006