Mindfulness identified as an effective quit-smoking aid

Mindfulness may sound like an intimidating topic to some, but the concept is actually fairly easy to comprehend. It is perhaps best understood as a state of mind with several defining characteristics, like objectivity, non-judgement and a strict focus on the present. The practice of mindfulness can also be equated to acquiring a skill, as it requires a prolonged dedication to the goal. Accordingly, there are several forms of training available to assist in the cultivation of mindfulness, the most popular of which are derived from Buddhist traditions of meditation.

The potential psychological and behavioral benefits of mindful practice have caught the attention of professional researchers in recent years. This has resulted in a range of studies testing variations on the technique that have been fine-tuned for a specific clinical application. One of the resultant strategies is an eight-week meditation training (MT) course designed to help participants quit smoking tobacco. A recently released study by Maria Theodora Oikonomou, Marios Arvanitis and Robert L. Sokolove (published online by the Journal of Health Psychology), examined the efficacy of this program using data from existing research.

Experiments fitting the research requirements were identified through a comprehensive search that was conducted primarily online. Requirements for this initial round of selection included the comparison of MT for smoking cessation purposes with an existing non-MT program, and at least two intervals of measurements using standard psychological questionnaires. Verification of abstinence from smoking following intervention and progression of mindful skills were among the most sought after dependent variables.

The search initially presented over 200 potentially useful studies, only four of which were deemed fit for final inclusion, providing a total of 474 subjects. Using a method known as meta-analysis, the researchers performed a statistical analysis on a combination of data from each study.

While no significant difference was found between smoking abstinence rates of MT groups and other programs during the first four months of follow-up, later measurements revealed almost twice the adherence rate for those who received MT (25.2% to 13.6%). Participants also demonstrated improvements in mindful skills as training progressed. T

he researchers proposed that the delay is due to the detail that becoming genuinely mindful takes a prolonged period of dedicated practice. Another possibility is that the positive impact of MT as a smoking cessation therapy has a longer staying power than comparative non-MT programs. Either way, it appears that mindful practice can provide long-term help for those who want to quit smoking.