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Quitting cold turkey–strong coverage from LA Times, except for lack of independent sources

To quit smoking, it's best to go cold turkey, study finds

Our Review Summary

A woman tapping her cigarette butt into an ashtrayThis story looks at a study that investigated whether going cold turkey (quitting abruptly) is more effective than cutting back gradually. The article does a good job quantifying the benefits, and informing readers of the quality of the research. We also liked how the author made an effort to place this latest study in the larger body of research on smoking cessation, and used plainspoken language to let us know the results weren’t “overwhelming.” However, the story lacked comments from an independent source–or even one of the researchers.

 

Why This Matters

Well-designed research on smoking cessation is vital to helping smokers overcome their addiction. The media’s role is important, too–readers eager to quit smoking are not likely to be reading medical journals, but they are reading the news. Therefore, media reports about smoking cessation research must help readers make sense of new findings, and not overhype lackluster results or downplay serious harms or costs.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Both groups in this study used smoking cessation products, and so it would have been helpful to know how much they cost, even if it was just a quick approximation or discussion of affordability. At the same time, these aren’t high-dollar items, so cost isn’t as important to discuss as say, when reporting findings about a new cancer drug or surgery.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story gives the absolute number of participants (697) who were enrolled in the trial and then reports the percentages of participants who stopped smoking. While it reported reduced cigarette consumption in relative numbers, it did specify that participants smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day, giving somewhat more meaning to these percentages (e.g. “decrease their smoking by an average of 29%”). It told us quit rates at four weeks and six months, too–so we get some sense of change over time on results. It also placed these results in the greater context of what we know about quit rates among smokers.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

When quitting, heavy smokers can experience withdrawal symptoms–such as depression, insomnia and decreased heart rate–even if they use nicotine replacement products.

The article did refer to “withdrawal” and “urge intensities” and so we’ll considered that sufficient. However, the piece would have been stronger had it specifically discussed the withdrawal symptoms mentioned above.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The story sufficiently discusses the quality of evidence here, including that participants were assigned to one of two treatment groups. We’re told how far out the the study lasted, too–an indirect measure of quality, since long-term success rates are important for addictive behaviors.

We also liked this frank sentence: “The researchers acknowledge that this is hardly the last word on the best way to quit.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not engage in disease mongering–a smoking habit is unhealthy and harmful, and efforts to improve quit rates are important to study.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

This story does not include any comments from independent sources–or even from one of the researchers themselves. It only refers to the original journal article. Why does this matter? It’s always a good idea to consult an outside source because it’s likely to yield insights and context that otherwise would be lacking. But overall, this is a case where the story is still fairly strong, regardless of the lack of sourcing or interviews.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The study is comparing two alternatives when quitting smoking–either cold turkey or gradually. The story discusses these options, along with the use of nicotine replacement in both scenarios. That’s enough to qualify as Satisfactory.

However, another alternative the author didn’t mention was medications that can help with cravings–such as bupropion. What does the research say (if anything) about how those medications might augment quitting? That’s important to discuss.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The availability of cigarettes or smoking cessation products is not in question, which is why we rate this one Not Applicable.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Although the story uses the word “new” when it means “latest” in the lead paragraph, we feel it did a good enough job referring to other studies to merit a Satisfactory rating.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Despite the lack of original comments, this LA Times article does not appear to be based on any news releases we found online.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory

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