Web and Computer Based Smoking Cessation Programs May Be Effective

It is well known that smoking can increase your risk of serious illnesses including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and lung disease. In fact, smoking can significantly shorten your lifespan and make those around you ill from secondhand smoke. Even with all these motivating factors, like most other addictions, smoking can be extremely challenging to give up for good. There are many programs and tools that have been developed to help people quit, including nicotine replacement, medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, medical hypnosis, and a variety of support systems. Some cessation programs use technology to enhance user access. However, studies on the effectiveness of technology-based programs have shown inconsistent results.

The National Cancer Center in South Korea investigated the effectiveness of computer-based smoking cessation programs by reviewing several past studies. The review published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that these programs were modestly effective in helping participants quit.

About the Study

The systematic review collected data from 22 randomized trials with a total of 29,549 smokers. A total of 16,050 people in the intervention group participated in computer-based programs (including web-based applications) and 13,499 people were followed in control groups (with no access to computer-based programs). At 6-12 months, the participants using the computer-based programs were almost twice (1.7 times) as likely to remain smoke-free as those in the control groups.

In 10 of the trials, supplemental tools like counseling, nicotine replacements, and medication were provided to both the control and intervention groups. The researchers found that there was no significant difference in the abstinence rates between computer-based groups that used these supplemental tools and the computer-based groups that did not.

How Does This Affect You?

This review was based on randomized control trials, the results of which are generally considered to be highly reliable. However, many of the studies were compromised by high drop-out rates (not unusual for this type of study). In the end, though, computer-based programs do appear to be effective tools for smoking cessation, at least within the first year. These programs can provide support, information, and assistance at times that are convenient to the user while providing a degree of anonymity, which may be important to some smokers. The availability of technology on portable devices can also make the assistance immediately available at moments of weakness.

In most cases, multiple concurrent approaches are necessary for long-term smoking cessation. Nicotine replacements may help decrease withdrawal reactions, support groups can provide tips from others that have struggled with their addiction, and cognitive behavioral therapy can address the thoughts and actions that inevitable lead to relapses. If you smoke, now is the best time to quit. If you have tried to quit before, try again. It is the rare smoker who succeeds on his first try.


American Lung Association

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Myung SK, McDonnell DD, Kazinets G, Seo HG, Moskowitz JM. Effects of Web- and computer-based smoking cessation programs: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 25;169(10):929-37.

Last reviewed July 2009 by Richard Glickman-Simon, MD  Last Updated: 7/28/2009