Seasonal variations in smoking and quitting behaviors have been documented, with many smokers seeking cessation assistance around the start of the New Year. What remains unknown is whether smokers who are recruited to cessation treatment trials during the New Year are as motivated to quit, or as likely to enroll in a research trial, adhere to a research protocol, and benefit from a cessation intervention compared to those who are recruited during other times of the year.
The objective of this study was to determine whether smokers recruited during the New Year period differ on measures of motivation and desire to quit, recruitment and retention rates, website utilization rates, and short-term cessation outcomes compared to smokers recruited at other times.
Participants were current smokers who had registered on a free Web-based cessation program (BecomeAnEX.org) and were invited to participate in a clinical trial. The New Year period was defined according to a clear peak and drop in the proportion of visitors who registered on the site, spanning a 15-day period from December 26, 2012 to January 9, 2013. Two other 15-day recruitment periods during summer (July 18, 2012 to August 1, 2012) and fall (November 7, 2012 to November 21, 2012) were selected for comparison. Data were examined from 3 sources: (1) a Web-based clinical trials management system that automated the recruitment and enrollment process, (2) self-report assessments at baseline and 3 months postrandomization, and (3) online tracking software that recorded website utilization during the first 3 months of the trial.
Visitors to BecomeAnEX during the New Year period were more likely to register on the site than smokers who visited during summer or fall (conversion rates: 7.4%, 4.6%, 4.9%, respectively; P<.001), but there were no differences in rates of study acceptance, consent, randomization, 3-month follow-up survey completion, or cessation between the 3 periods. New Year participants were older, more educated, more likely to be employed full time, and more likely to have a relationship partner compared with participants recruited at other times during the year, but did not differ on measures of motivation and desire to quit.
Smokers visiting a Web-based cessation program during the New Year period were more likely to register for treatment and differ on several demographic variables, but showed similar patterns of treatment engagement, retention, follow-up, and short-term cessation outcomes compared with participants who visited the site during other periods of the year. These results allay scientific concerns about recruiting participants during this time frame and are reassuring for researchers conducting Web-based cessation trials.