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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 00:01 GMT
'No benefit from reducing smoking'
Cigarettes
Quitting is the only sure way to combat the ill effects of smoking
Heavy cigarette smokers who cut back their smoking - rather than quit - might not see any health benefits, according to researchers.

A team from the US Mayo Clinic studied 23 volunteers who smoked more than 40 cigarettes a day.

Over the course of nine weeks, they tried to gradually cut back to 10 cigarettes a day.


Cutting down is really a cul-de-sac

Clive Bates, Action on Smoking and Health
The volunteers were given information and counselling on strategies to help deal with stress, hunger and other typical signs of nicotine withdrawal.

They were also permitted to use a nicotine inhaler to help reduce their desire for cigarettes.

At the end of 12 weeks, researchers tested the volunteers for signs of harm from cigarettes.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Hurt said: "Many people - smokers and medical professionals alike - assume that if smokers can simply cut back, there will be some health benefits.

"Our results didn't show that."

Difficult to cut back

The volunteers found it difficult to achieve the targets they had been set for reducing their cigarette consumption.

On average, they were only able to cut their smoking rate in half by the 12th week - well short of the target of 10 cigarettes a day.

Only two participants were able to cut back to 10 cigarettes a day, and after 24 weeks they had increased their daily smoking rate.

Dr Hurt said: "The study found that cutting back on cigarettes isn't easy, even with help, and the health benefits are unclear."

For smokers motivated to improve their health, research shows that abstinence is the best approach.

Dr Hurt said: "Heavy smokers who use nicotine replacement therapy and receive counselling and support can stop smoking.

"And when smokers stop, there are measurable and almost immediate health benefits."

Nicotine addiction

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health said: "We know that smokers adjust their smoke intake to deliver enough nicotine to satisfy their addiction.

"It's possible to get just as much nicotine by smoking fewer cigarettes more intensively, for example by taking deeper drags, more puffs or smoking more of the tobacco.

"Because smokers adjust the way they smoke to take in the same nicotine, then they will get the same toxic tar and gases and without any health benefit.

"Cutting down is really a cul-de-sac on the road to quitting altogether, and it is much better to avoid ineffective diversions and make the necessary preparations for a full scale quit attempt."

The research is published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

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14 Dec 00 | Health
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