AUG 02, 2017 05:23 AM PDT

How to Get More Smokers to Quit? Let Them See Their Lungs


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No matter how you slice it, smoking is unequivocally dangerous to your health. Cigarette smoking is now the number one leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US. But, because nicotine is addictive, the habit is hard to break - about 40 million Americans still light up cigarettes daily. Now a recent study suggests that to encourage more quitters, smokers need only see what their lungs look like in a CT scan.

The smoking cessation study was conducted in the UK, and involved over 4,000 people. Researchers divided the group in two: those in group A received a low-dose CT screening for detection of lung cancer, while those in group B did not receive this screening.

The simple experimental design produced surprisingly compelling results. Those who got screened were more likely to quit smoking than those who were not monitored. Specifically, of the people who got CT scans, 10 percent successfully quit after two weeks, and 15 percent had quit after two years. If these numbers don’t sound impressive, consider that the quit rate was around 5 percent in the control group.

"The findings of this study dispute the belief that a negative screening result offers a ‘licence to smoke,’ said Professor John Field, the senior study lead.

So why did smokers who received lung screenings have a higher rate of cessation? The researchers believe the screening reinforced the health consequences of smoking as well as provided strategies for quitting. “Engaging with lung screening can give smokers an opportunity to access smoking cessation support -- at a time when they are likely to be more receptive to offers of help,” said Dr. Field.

But perhaps it could also be that smokers who saw a glimpse of their carcinogen-exposed organ were facing their mortality, and thus were more encouraged to break the habit.

And while it’s best never to start, it’s never too late to quit. A smoker who quits may see the benefits in as little as an hour. With continued cessation, risks for disease and cancer slowly begin to drop. And in some cases, the risks may be comparable to people who have never smoked. A 40-year-old smoker could potentially live 9 years longer after having quit smoking as compared to continued smoking.

Additional sources: University of Liverpool via Science Daily

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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