Stony Brook Researchers Investigate New Method to Help World Trade Center Responders with Anxiety To Quit Smoking

A team of scientists at Stony Brook University have received a three-year $1.5 million award from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to evaluate a new method to help responders to the World Trade Center disaster who have symptoms of PTSD quit smoking. The team, led by Roman Kotov, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, includes Stony Brook professors Evelyn Bromet, PhD and Benjamin Luft, MD, Medical Director of the WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, as well as Michael Zvolensky, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston.

The researchers will enlist 100 smokers who have significant symptoms of PTSD as a result of working at World Trade Center. Half of them will receive standard smoking cessation treatment, including nicotine replacement therapy, while the other half will receive the standard treatment augmented by cognitive behavioral therapy using a protocol developed by Dr. Zvolensky. Once the eight-week program is complete, the researchers will monitor abstinence from smoking, and improvements in PTSD and respiratory symptoms over the next six months.

Despite strong encouragement to quit smoking, people with anxiety disorders—even those with respiratory illness—face significant obstacles when they try to quit. “Quitting smoking is particularly distressing to people with PTSD,” Dr. Kotov explained. “We think that by giving them tools to manage the stress caused by smoking cessation, we can help them quit smoking successfully.”

Drs. Kotov and Zvolensky have been collaborating on research into the links between smoking and anxiety for almost ten years. Their early research investigated associations between health risks such as smoking and drinking and anxiety in an epidemiologic sample from Russia.

The Stony Brook WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program offers seamless medical and mental health care using state-of-the-art, evidence-based treatment.  “This new intervention represents the best that psychological medicine has to offer,” said Dr. Bromet, “and is consistent with the philosophy of treatment embodied by Dr. Luft and the staff of the Stony Brook program.”