Evaluating the effect of access to free medication to quit smoking: a clinical trial testing the role of motivation

Nicotine Tob Res. 2014 Jul;16(7):992-9. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu025. Epub 2014 Mar 7.


Introduction: Although the majority of smokers are ambivalent about quitting, few treatments specifically target smokers lacking motivation to quit in the near future. Most existing interventions are instead predicated on the belief that active treatments should only be distributed to smokers interested in quitting, a largely untested assumption.

Methods: In the current clinical trial (N = 157), motivated smokers wanting to quit in the next 30 days were given a 2-week nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) sample and a referral to a quitline (Group MNQ), while unmotivated smokers were randomized to receive the same treatment (Group UNQ) or a quitline referral only (Group UQ). Participants were tracked via telephone for 3 months to assess quitting behaviors and smoking reduction.

Results: Groups significantly differed across all comparisons with regard to incidence of any quit attempt (MNQ: 77%, UNQ: 40%, UQ: 18%, p < .05) and any 24-hr quit attempts (62%, 32%, 16%, p < .05). Clinically meaningful differences emerged in the rates of floating (19%, 17%, 6%) and point prevalence abstinence (17%, 15%, 5%). Compared to participants in Group UQ (11%), a greater proportion of participants in Group MNQ (48%, p = .01) and Group UNQ (31%, p = .01) reduced their daily cigarette consumption by at least half. Proxy measures of cessation readiness (e.g., motivation) favored participants receiving active forms of treatment.

Conclusions: Providing NRT samples engaged both motivated and unmotivated smokers into the quitting process and produced positive changes in smoking outcomes. This suggests that motivation should not be considered a necessary precondition to receiving treatment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Hotlines*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Nicotine / therapeutic use
  • Smoking / therapy*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • South Carolina
  • Telephone
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / therapy


  • Nicotine