Penn offers smokers several ways to quit

Stopping smoking requires commitment, willpower and for many, a little help.

According to the American Heart Association, even though cigarette smoking among adults in the United States has declined by 50 percent over the past four decades, 20 percent of Americans—one out of every five—still smoke. The health risks associated with smoking are well known: cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema. And, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, on average, male smokers die 13.2 years earlier than male nonsmokers, and female smokers die 14.5 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts.

Smokers at Penn who may have tried to quit before and failed, or who don’t know the best steps to follow to successfully squelch their smoking habits may want to participate in a study being conducted by Penn Medicine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction (CIRNA)

The study, called MAPS (Memory, Attention and Planning Skills) for Quitting Smoking, will focus on using a nicotine patch to help with cravings while also enhancing the concentration skills of smokers to change their behavior. Concentration exercises will help smokers not only identify behavior that triggers smoking, but will also help to improve cognitive skills to combat those urges, says Caryn Lerman, a psychiatry professor in the School of Medicine. Lerman, who is also the director of CIRNA, is one of the principal researchers in the clinical study, alongside James Loughead, assistant professor of neuropsychology in the Department of Psychiatry.

“Most cessation programs include a behavior skills component that helps people identify their triggers—getting in the car, talking on the phone, food—and how to choose an alternative behavior,” Lerman says. “The reason the behavior pattern is important is that the connection in the brain between those activities associated with smoking is so strong.”

Participants in the MAPS study will receive a nicotine patch plus concentration exercises intended to improve their attention to changing their behavior and boost their willpower. The exercises will be computer-based, Lerman says.

“We believe that practicing certain exercises will actually improve some brain circuitry involved in controlling behavior, that the exercises can actually change people’s brains and that can help them quit,” she explains.

To test the theory, Lerman says the Center will do brain scans on some participants before and after the program to see if the concentration exercises affected brain function.

The Center is looking for 340 volunteers to enroll in the study, and starting in May, CIRNA will offer monthly information sessions. The first session is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3, from noon until 1 p.m. in Room 223 in Houston Hall.

Individuals who are selected to participate in the study will receive free nicotine replacement therapy, smoking cessation counseling, including online help, and reimbursements for time and effort.

We believe that practicing certain exercises will actually improve some brain circuitry involved in controlling behavior, that the exercises can actually change people’s brains and that can help them quit.”

Those interested in attending the information sessions should pre-register by visiting the Human Resources course catalog at For more information contact Human Resources at or 215-898-5116, or CIRNA at 215-746-8560.

Those not interested in participating in the research study but still want to quit have another medical option. The Penn Smoking Treatment Program at Penn Medicine provides state-of-the-art and individualized treatment for smokers. It involves an initial evaluation visit with both a counselor and a physician, during which a plan will be constructed to meet the smoker’s particular health needs.

Participants in this program must contact their insurance providers to see if a referral is required and specialist visit co-pays apply. More information about this and other programs is at

Also, Penn’s prescription drug plan offers discounted 90-day supplies of smoking cessation medications such as Zyban and Chantix through the CVS Caremark mail order program, and Independence Blue Cross reimburses members up to $200 per year in expenses associated with trying to quit smoking. However, employees must enroll with the Blue Cross Healthy Lifestyles program prior to starting the smoking cessation program.

To learn more about all the stop-smoking programs offered by the University, visit the Human Resources’ Quality of Worklife website at