Of the 45 million people who smoke, the rate they metabolize nicotine varies.
Researchers know if they need more nicotine more often, they are genetically predisposed to finding it harder to quit.
Dr. Lee and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University performed a study using enhanced treatment counseling.
The treatment counseling was done alongside nicotine patches and gum, to see if more high metabolizers would quit.
“What happens, biochemically, when someone smokes a cigarette is that the nicotine is absorbed through the lungs and very quickly goes to the brain, which provides the pleasant effects of nicotine,” said Lee.
Some smokers who quickly metabolize nicotine are almost immediately looking for more, making the process of quitting all the more difficult.
Professor Lee and his colleagues studied 321 smokers, of which 241 had the high-metabolizing gene. The study used both nicotine patches and gum but added psychological and emotional support to see if more smokers would quit.
“Now that we’re starting to understand that genetics shapes parts of smoking,” said Lee, “providing more behavioral support to fast metabolizers increased that quit rate to 17%.”
That becomes a significant increase for long-time smokers like Elizabeth Jajko, who smoked a pack a day for 18 years.
“I had a blood clot in my leg. I’m prone to them,” said Jajko. “It works, but it’s just like anything, you have to really want to, you know, you have to put your mind to it.”
“By combining the traditional patch and gum with emotional and psychological support, it makes all the difference. These health coaches remind smokers why they want and need to quit,” said Lee.
Post-study, some participants received follow-up telephone calls from a state-run cigarette quit line to continue cessation counseling and they were given free nicotine patches.
Vanderbilt provided other participants with extra tobacco treatment counselors for emotional support.
Professor Lee advises checking with programs near where you live to increase your chances of quitting.