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Tob Control. 2005 Dec;14(6):425-8.

To what extent do smokers plan quit attempts?

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Little is known about the extent to which quit attempts are planned ahead or initiated immediately following a sudden decision to quit. This is important because if most smokers quit abruptly, rather than plan ahead, this could impact heavily upon recommendations to health care professionals on the kind of smoking cessation advice they deliver to patients. This paper aims to address this gap in knowledge by examining detailed smoking histories taken from smoking and ex-smoking patients.


Face-to-face in depth semi-structured interviews.


146 smoking and ex-smoking patients within a family medicine practice were recruited by means of screening 700 consecutive patients (14 years of age and older) and inviting eligible patients to participate. To be eligible, patients had to have smoked a minimum of five cigarettes per day for at least six months in their lives and made at least one serious quit attempt that lasted at least 24 hours. There were no refusals. Ex-smokers (n = 67) were defined as those who had not smoked for six months. The remainder were classified as smokers (n = 79).


Participants were asked to describe, in their own words, their most recent quit attempt and whether they had planned the quit attempt in advance, what were the triggers, and how long they abstained. A quit attempt was defined as planned if smokers set a quit date at some future time point. An unplanned quit attempt was defined as a sudden decision not to smoke any more cigarettes including those that might be remaining in the current pack. Information was also collected on methods used to quit and reasons for quitting.


A majority (51.6%) of quit attempts were reported as being unplanned. The figure was higher for ex-smokers than for smokers (67.1% v 36.7%, p < 0.001). Most quit attempts were unaided (64%) and made for reasons of health (64%).


The finding that so many quit attempts are unprepared suggests that models of smoking cessation should place greater emphasis on the dynamic nature of motivation to quit. This is an area that requires further investigation.

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