Defining and Measuring Abstinence in Clinical Trials of Smoking Cessation Interventions: An Updated Review

Nicotine Tob Res. 2020 Jun 12;22(7):1098-1106. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntz110.


Background: Changes in tobacco products, use patterns, and assessment technology in the last 15 years led the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) Treatment Research Network to call for an update to the 2003 SRNT recommendations for assessing abstinence in clinical trials of smoking cessation interventions.

Methods: The SRNT Treatment Research Network convened a group of investigators with decades of experience in conducting tobacco treatment clinical trials. To arrive at the updated recommendations, the authors reviewed the recommendations of the prior SRNT Workgroup as well as current literature. Ten additional experts in the field provided feedback on this paper and these recommendations.

Results: With respect to defining abstinence, the authors recommend: (1) continuing to use the definition of no use of combustible tobacco products (regardless of use of noncombustible tobacco products [e.g., snus] and alternative products [e.g., e-cigarettes]) and collecting additional data to permit alternate abstinence definitions; (2) no use of combustible or smokeless tobacco products; and (3) no use of combustible or smokeless tobacco products or alternative products, as appropriate for the research question being addressed. The authors also recommend reporting point prevalence and prolonged abstinence at multiple timepoints (end of treatment, ≥3 months after the end of treatment, and ≥6 months postquit or posttreatment initiation).

Conclusions: Defining abstinence requires specification of which products a user must abstain from using, the type of abstinence (i.e., point prevalence or continuous), and the duration of abstinence. These recommendations are intended to serve as guidelines for investigators as they collect the necessary data to accurately describe participants' abstinence during smoking cessation clinical trials.

Implications: This paper provides updated recommendations for defining abstinence in the context of smoking cessation treatment clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Smoking Prevention