Public Release: 

Smoking relapse rates drop off sharply after two years

Center for Advancing Health

The bad news for ex-smokers has always been that relapse rates are extremely high, but a new study suggests that staying away from cigarettes gets much easier after two years of abstinence, with more than 80 percent of former smokers achieving long-term success.

Relapse rates for smokers trying to quit have been estimated to range from 60 percent to 90 percent within the first year, but few studies have looked at the long-term relapse rates of formers smokers, according to the study published in the current issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

"Former cigarette smokers who remain abstinent for at least two years have a risk of relapse of 2 percent to 4 percent each year within the second through sixth years, but this risk decreases to less than 1 percent annually after 10 years of abstinence," says study author Elizabeth A. Krall, Ph.D., of Boston University School of Dental Medicine.

Among the ex-smokers who stayed away from cigarettes for two or more years, 19 percent eventually resumed smoking, the researchers found.

The study included 483 men enrolled in the ongoing VA Normative Aging Study, a Boston-based study begun in 1960. On average, the men started smoking at age 18, smoked about a pack and a half a day and smoked for more than three decades before trying to quit.

Relapsed smokers were most likely to report that they became too nervous or tense when not smoking; they felt they were addicted and couldn't stop; they missed the sensations of smoking; and they felt peer pressure to resume smoking.

The former smokers who relapsed after two or more years of abstinence were more likely to use cigars and pipes, and to drink five or more alcohol beverages a day and more than six cups of coffee a day.

"The relationship with alcohol appears more dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed than on the social situations in which it is consumed," says Krall. They found that men who didn't smoke while drinking socially were just as likely to relapse as men who did smoke while drinking modest amounts of alcohol.


The study was supported with funding from the Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Nicotine & Tobacco Research is the official peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. For information about the journal, contact Gary E. Swan, Ph.D., at (650) 859-5322.

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