Revealing the complexity of quitting smoking: a qualitative grounded theory study of the natural history of quitting in Australian ex-smokers

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To explore the quitting histories of Australian ex-smokers in order to develop an understanding of the varied contribution of smoking cessation assistance (either pharmacotherapy or professionally mediated behavioural support) to the process of quitting.


Qualitative grounded theory study; in-depth interviews.


37 Australian adult ex-smokers (24–68 years; 15 men, 22 women) who quit in the past 6–24 months.


Although participants’ individual quitting histories and their overall experiences of quitting were unique, when the 37 quitting histories were compared it was clear two experiences were common to almost all participants: almost no one quit at their first quit attempt and almost everyone started out quitting unassisted. Furthermore, distinct patterns existed in the timing and use of assistance, in particular the age at which assistance was first used, how some participants were resolutely uninterested in assistance, and how assistance might have contributed to the process of successful quitting even if not used on the final quit attempt. Importantly, three patterns in use of assistance were identified: (1) only ever tried to quit unassisted (n=13); (2) started unassisted, tried assistance but reverted back to unassisted (n=13); (3) started unassisted, tried assistance and quit with assistance (n=11). For most participants, insight into what quitting would require was only gained through prior quitting experiences with and without assistance. For a number of participants, interest in assistance was at its lowest when the participant was most ready to quit.


Quitting should be viewed as a process drawing on elements of assisted and unassisted quitting rather than a stand-alone event that can be labelled as strictly assisted or unassisted.

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