A randomized, controlled trial of NRT-aided gradual vs. abrupt cessation in smokers actively trying to quit

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Sep 1;111(1-2):105-13. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.04.007. Epub 2010 May 26.


Most smoking cessation programs advise abrupt rather than gradual cessation. We conducted a randomized, controlled trial of gradual cessation (n=297) vs. abrupt cessation (n=299) vs. minimal treatment (n=150) among smokers who wanted to quit now and preferred to quit gradually. Participants were recruited via newspaper and radio advertisements. The gradual and abrupt conditions received five phone calls (total=90 min) and the minimal treatment condition received two calls (25 min total). The gradual condition received nicotine lozenge (via mail) to reduce smoking prior to their quit date. After the quit day, all participants received lozenge. The primary outcome was prolonged abstinence from 2 weeks post-quit day through 6 months. Prior to the quit day, the gradual condition decreased cigarettes/day by 54%, whereas the other two conditions decreased by 1% and 5%. Prolonged abstinence rates (CO<10 ppm) did not differ among gradual, abrupt and minimal treatment conditions (4%, 7% and 5%), nor did 7-day point prevalence rates (7%, 11% and 11%). Fewer smokers in the gradual condition (48%) made a quit attempt than in the abrupt (64%) or minimal (60%) conditions (p<.001). In the gradual condition, every week delay to the quit date increased the probability of lapsing by 19% (p<.001). We conclude that among smokers who want to stop gradually in the near future, gradual cessation with nicotine pre-treatment does not produce higher quit rates than abrupt cessation. One liability of gradual reduction may be that it allows smokers to delay their quit date.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00297492.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine / therapeutic use*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Patient Compliance
  • Self Efficacy
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00297492