Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

UA guided imagery study aims to help smokers quit

Judith S. Gordon, Ph.D.

The University of Arizona is launching a new guided imagery-based smoking cessation program called the Be Smoke Free program.

Led by Interim Associate Dean for Research Judith S. Gordon, Ph.D., the study focuses on retraining a participant’s brain both in the need for nicotine and the habit of smoking in specific situations.

“We know that smoking is a habit,” Gordon says. “So people ‘learn’ how to smoke and it gets associated with different behaviors over time.”

Gordon developed the program after the success of her previous smoking cessation study, the See Me Smoke Free program, which helped women quit smoking using an assistive smart phone app.

One goal of the Be Smoke Free study is to see if the methods serve men and minorities better as these groups generally show less response to telephone

“Our program hopes to do two things: one is to be effective at helping smokers quit and the other is to be appealing to people who don’t normally use a quit line to help them,” Gordon said.

The study will randomly place participants into one of two groups, either the “intervention” group or a control group.

“The good news is that the control condition that we have developed is based on what telephone quit lines do and we know it is effective,” Gordon says.

Both groups will feature six telephone sessions with a trained coach. The coach will help the participants develop a plan tailored to their specific needs as smokers looking to quit.

They also will get a four week supply of nicotine patches or lozenges if they desire to use them.

“We do recommend that people use medication in addition to the coaching that we do because the combination of those two things is more effective than either one alone,” Gordon says.

Gordon said that people who try to quit “cold turkey” usually have trouble with the withdrawal phase of the method and end up picking smoking back up.

“It’s analogous to saying that somebody is going to go on a diet and they’re going to stop eating,” Gordon said. “You can’t stop eating! You have to replace what you’re eating with something that is healthier.”

In the Be Smoke Free program, new behavioral strategies will provide that healthier option.

“Your brain changes when you use nicotine, so you need time for your brain to adapt back to normal levels,” Gordon says. “The thing about using nicotine replacement products is that it takes the edge off when you’re quitting so that you can focus on changing those behaviors.”

The coaches in the study will focus on the behavior behind the participant’s urge to light up a cigarette in the first place.

“What you do working with a coach is create new  ways to cope with stress or to deal with those times that you’re bored or when you’re in a trigger situation,“ Gordon said. “For example, in dealing with triggers, we ask them to identify a situation like the first cup of coffee in the morning.”

Using sensory elements to imagine the situation such as sight, sound and smell, the participant can figure out what to do differently when those urges arise.

They then create a script for the situation as an audio file to listen to in order to practice the new behavior.

When it comes to people who have smoked for a long time, these rituals have to be addressed with particular care.

“You don’t want to just tell somebody to stop smoking because it serves a purpose in their life,” Gordon said. “No matter how much they don’t like it, it still serves a purpose and we need to find something healthy to replace it with.”

The program is funded by a $700,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Participants are asked to complete three surveys over the course of their involvement in the program and will be rewarded with a total of $50 by check or e-gift card if they complete all the surveys.

For more information or to enroll, visit www.besmokefreestudy.org or call 626-4243.