More than 20% of adults in the United States currently smoke. Unfortunately, quitting smoking is a lot harder than taking up the habit. Many organizations promote a multi-step process for quitting. This model involves a series of stages that include thinking about quitting and preparing to quit, before actually attempting to quit. So how does the smoker who decides to quit at the spur of the moment fare?

In an article published in the January 26, 2006 edition of BMJ Online First , researchers report that unplanned attempts to quit smoking are twice as likely to be successful as planned attempts.

About the Study

The researchers recruited 918 smokers who’d reported making at least one serious attempt to quit and 996 ex-smokers, aged 16 years and older. The study subjects were asked how long ago they’d made their last attempt to quit; how much in advance they had planned to quit (the answers ranged from no advance planning, to planning the quit attempt later in the day, to planning to quit several months later); and how long their latest attempt to quit had lasted.

Nearly half of the study participants reported that their last attempt to quit was unplanned. In addition, participants who had made an unplanned attempt to quit smoking between six months and five years previously were twice as likely to have been cigarette-free for at least six months, compared to participants who had made a planned attempt. This was true even after the researchers took the participants’ age, gender, and socioeconomic group into consideration.

Because the study participants were asked about quit attempts up to five years in the past, this study was limited by the potential inaccuracy of the participants’ recollections. The researchers also did not ask the participants why they decided to quit, and just as important, why they started smoking again, if they did.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that unplanned attempts to quit smoking were more likely to be successful than planned attempts. This does not necessarily mean than the process of planning is counterproductive. Rather, it might reflect that someone who decides to quit smoking at that moment is more committed to quitting than someone who has pondered the event for some time. While this conclusion seems a bit surprising, it is difficult to say more without knowing what motivated the abrupt quitters to act.

While quitting cold turkey might work for some people, it may not be the best option for others. Purchasing nicotine patches, removing cigarettes from your home and office, and telling others about your plan to quit can all make quitting easier—and all require planning. So if planning before proceeding is your style, then do that. But, if the time feels right—right now—do it!