Adherence to Pharmacological Smoking Cessation Interventions: A Literature Review and Synthesis of Correlates and Barriers.

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Efficacious pharmacological interventions for smoking cessation are available, but poor adherence to these treatments may limit these interventions overall impact. To improve adherence to smoking cessation interventions, it is first necessary to identify and understand smoker-level characteristics that drive nonadherence (ie, nonconformance with a provider's recommendation of timing, dosage, or frequency of medication-taking during the prescribed length of time).


We present a literature review of studies examining correlates of, or self-reported reasons for, nonadherence to smoking cessation pharmacotherapies. Studies were identified through PubMed-using MeSH terms, Embase-using Emtree terms, and ISI Web of Science.

Results and conclusions

This literature review included 50 studies that examined nonpreventable (eg, sociodemographics) and preventable (eg, forgetfulness) factors associated with adherence to smoking cessation medication and suggestions for overcoming some of the identified barriers. Systematic study of this topic would be facilitated by consistent reporting of adherence and correlates thereof in the literature, development of consistent definitions of medication adherence across studies, utilization of more objective measures of adherence (eg, blood plasma levels vs. self-report) in addition to reliance on self-reported adherence.


This article provides the most comprehensive review to date on correlates of adherence to pharmacological smoking cessation interventions. Challenges and specific gaps in the literature that should be a priority for future research are discussed. Future priorities include additional research, particularly among vulnerable populations of smokers, developing standardized definitions of adherence and methods for measuring adherence, regular assessment of cessation pharmacotherapy adherence in the context of research and clinical practice, and development of novel treatments aimed at preventable barriers to medication adherence.





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Publication Info

Pacek, Lauren R, F Joseph McClernon and Hayden B Bosworth (2018). Adherence to Pharmacological Smoking Cessation Interventions: A Literature Review and Synthesis of Correlates and Barriers. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 20(10). pp. 1163–1172. 10.1093/ntr/ntx210 Retrieved from

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F Joseph McClernon

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Joseph McClernon, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and founder/director of the Center for Addiction Science and Technology (CfAST). In his four years with the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) he has served as director of the Evaluation and Strategic Planning core, interim co-director of the Team Science core, and director of the Integration and Strategic Partnerships pillar. During his tenure with CTSI, his leadership has been critical to building a culture of evaluation and continuous improvement, in strengthening the institute’s partnership with North Carolina Central University and other regional partners, and in planning strategy and development for the institute. 

 Dr. McClernon earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2001 from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke in 2002. He served as Director of the Addiction Division in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences from 2012-2020. His research is focused on increasing our understanding of tobacco use, developing new and more effective interventions to nicotine dependence, and informing the FDA’s regulation of tobacco products. He has served as a site-PI and Co-I for more than ten years in the Center for the Evaluation of Nicotine in Cigarettes (CENIC)— a national consortium that has provided the bulk of evidence to the FDA for informing national policies that will reduce nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, thus saving millions of lives. Dr. McClernon is now leading efforts to transition CENIC’s focus to public health interventions that ensure the new policy will be implemented in ways that enable equitable outcomes for marginalized groups. Other regulatory science research has evaluated the effects of nicotine in cigarettes on a model of cigarette experimentation, the impact of flavors in cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and the influence of product characteristics and policy on multiple tobacco product use. He has led other groundbreaking research on the influence of drug-associated environments on drug use, relapse, and treatment; tobacco use disparities among individuals with comorbid psychiatric (e.g., ADHD, serious mental illness) and health (e.g., HIV; chronic pain) problems.

Dr. McClernon has actively mentored early career individuals from high school students through early career faculty. His former postdoctoral fellows are faculty or staff scientists at academic medical centers, government agencies, and research institutes. He has been continuously NIH-, FDA-, and foundation- funded since 2002. He has authored/co-authored more than 170 peer-reviewed publications, has two patents, has served as chair of NIH grant review panels, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco Jarvik-Russell New Investigator Award.

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