Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Preventive Medicine

Current Projects

Behavioral Activation and Varenicline for Smoking Cessation in Depressed Smokers

The overall goal of this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial, conducted at Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, is to evaluate the efficacy and safety of behavioral activation plus varenicline for treating nicotine dependence in   smokers with current/recent major depressive disorder. Six hundred and thirty smokers with at least mild depression symptoms will be randomized to receive 12 weeks of one of four treatments: 1) Standard behavior therapy + placebo; 2) Behavioral activation for smoking cessation + placebo; 3) Standard behavior therapy + varenicline; or 4) Behavioral activation for smoking cessation + varenicline.

If you’re interested in participating, click here or call 1-877-236-7487.  To learn more about the trial, click here


Menthol Cigarette Use, Tobacco Dependence, and Cognition

The purpose of this study is to examine how cigarette smoking relates to nicotine dependence and cognition. The study will include one in-person visit lasting between 2.5-3 hours at our lab at Northwestern University in downtown Chicago. The study involves providing breath and saliva samples to assess recent smoking behavior; filling out questionnaires on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and completing computer tasks that measure cognitive functioning, including attention, memory, and motor control. Participants are also asked to smoke one of their own preferred cigarettes through a handheld device in our laboratory room. Individuals are not required to stop smoking for this study.

If you are interested in participating: click here or call 1-773-340-1506.


Extended Varenicline Treatment for Smoking among Cancer Patients

Individuals diagnosed with cancer tend to smoke at much higher rates than the general population. Moreover, fewer than 50% of these individuals are able to quit smoking or stay quit after being diagnosed. Using a double-blind placebo-controlled design involving 374 cancer patients at Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, this study aims to compare standard varenicline treatment (12 weeks) to extended varenicline treatment (24 weeks) for increasing week 24 and week 52 biochemically-confirmed 7-day point prevalence abstinence. All participants also receive brief behavior therapy administered both in-person and via telephone.

If you’re interested in participating, please email: or call 1-877-236-7487.  To learn more about the trial, click here.


COPD and Well-Being Study

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) experience rates of depression and anxiety that are up to 10 times higher than those in the general population. Further, COPD is triggered primarily by cigarette smoking, and many patients continue to smoke following diagnosis, indicating high levels of nicotine dependence. Characterizing shared mechanisms that underlie emotional distress and nicotine dependence may shed light on key risk factors that can be assessed in the course of clinical care for COPD and modified by targeted intervention. In the current study, we will assess relations between three theory-based psychological risk factors (i.e., anxiety sensitivity, distress intolerance, and anhedonia) and patient-reported and clinical outcomes among COPD patients. This study will be the first to our knowledge to examine shared psychological risk factors underlying comorbid conditions among COPD patients.



Targeting depression and nicotine dependence to promote cardiovascular health

Concurrent depression and nicotine dependence can synergistically increase risk for cardiovascular disease, but whether individuals can synergistically reduce cardiovascular disease risk through simultaneous treatment of these conditions is unknown. Therefore, the overall objective of this project is to assess whether simultaneous depression remission and smoking cessation synergistically improve cardiovascular health using two methodologies. First, we will use the Coronary Artery Risk Development In Young Adults (CARDIA) study, a community-based, biracial longitudinal study following 5,115 individuals over 25 years. Second, this project will evaluate the same relationship within the framework of the clinical trial of smoking cessation in depressed smokers.


Distress Tolerance and Smoking Lapse among Motivated Versus Unmotivated Smokers

The purpose of this study is to examine how smoking behavior and motivation to quit smoking relate to individual differences in personality. The study will include two visits: a 1-hour initial session and a 3-hour lab session about a week later. At the lab session, you will be asked to not smoke six hours immediately prior to this session. The study involves providing breath samples to assess recent smoking behavior; filling out questionnaires on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and completing laboratory tasks that measure personality traits and smoking behavior.

If you’re interested in participating, click here.


Reducing Tobacco Use Disparities among Adults in Safety Net Community Health Centers

This 2-group randomized controlled trial is evaluating the effectiveness of a population health management intervention for increasing state quitline treatment access, engagement, utilization, and cessation versus usual clinic-based care alone in 550 low-income smokers. The theory-based intervention to be evaluated in this study, named Choose to Change, will be automated via the electronic health record (EHR) system and involve the following components: 1) mailed letter outreach and automated text or voice messaging that is targeted to low income smokers who are not yet ready to quit; 2) proactive quitline treatment (counseling and nicotine patch, gum, or lozenge using a flexible quit date paradigm); and 3) treatment utilization and outcomes feedback provided by the Illinois Tobacco Quitline direct to the EHR system.

To learn more about the trial, click here. 




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Brian L Hitsman, PhD

Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine (Behavioral Medicine) and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences