In this blog for health practitioners and people wanting to quit smoking, Cochrane authors Annika Theodoulou and Dr Jamie Hartmann Boyce look at the latest Cochrane evidenceCochrane Reviews are systematic reviews. In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research. on what types of behavioural support can best help people quit tobacco smoking.
Page last checked 2 February 2023
Smoking is a leading cause of death and illness but fortunately much of the damage can be reversed by quitting. Most people who smoke want to quit, but quitting smoking is very hard to achieve without support.1
Support to quit smoking can be provided through medication, behavioural therapies or a combination of the two. The highest chance of success comes from combining a stop smoking medication, like nicotine replacement therapy or varenicline,2, 3 with behavioural support.
What are behavioural interventions for quitting smoking?
Behavioural interventions to help people quit smoking can work by prompting an attempt to quit and/or by helping people to maintain abstinence from smoking once the attempt has been made. These interventions can vary greatly in their content, delivery, intensity, and availability, and can be offered in various combinations or as stand-alone treatments.
For example, interventions can vary based on:
- Their focus – for example some interventions focus on why people should quit smoking, others focus on giving advice on how to quit smoking
- The behaviours they involve – for example, counselling, hypnotherapy, or exercise
- How they are delivered – for example, in person, over the phone, online, or in print materials
- Who provides the interventionA treatment, procedure or programme of health care that has the potential to change the course of events of a healthcare condition. Examples include a drug, surgery, exercise or counselling. – for example a nurse, physician, or counsellor
- The intensity of the intervention – how often, and for how long, a person receives the support
Given the number of different types of behavioural support available, you, like us, may now also be wondering which types of behavioural therapy work best.
What we did
We searched Cochrane ReviewsCochrane Reviews are systematic reviews. In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research. of behavioural support to stop smoking and found 312 relevant studies including 250,503 adults who smoked cigarettes. The studies reported on 437 different combinations of ways to stop smoking!
So, which types are most effective to help people quit smoking?
Our analysis showed that behavioural interventions for smoking cessation can increase quit rates compared to no behavioural support, but effectivenessThe ability of an intervention (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise) to produce a desired effect, such as reduce symptoms. varied on the type of support provided.
We found high-certainty evidence that providing counselling or guaranteed monetary rewards for quitting smoking increased people’s chances of quitting for 6 months or longer compared with minimal intervention.
We found moderate-certainty evidence that the following intervention characteristics were probably beneficial compared to no support:
- Interventions delivered by text message
- Individual tailoring of interventions
- Motivational components included in intervention content
- A focus on how to quit
- Delivery in a group setting
Evidence on other intervention characteristics such as on who delivers the intervention was low- to very low-certaintyThe certainty (or quality) of evidence is the extent to which we can be confident that what the research tells us about a particular treatment effect is likely to be accurate. Concerns about factors such as bias can reduce the certainty of the evidence. Evidence may be of high certainty; moderate certainty; low certainty or very-low certainty. Cochrane has adopted the GRADE approach (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) for assessing certainty (or quality) of evidence. Find out more here: https://training.cochrane.org/grade-approach, so we are still uncertain about the effects of some intervention characteristics.
Are behavioural interventions for quitting smoking harmful?
There was no evidence to suggest an increase in harms in people who received behavioural support to help quit smoking.
Our overview was published in January 2021 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.4
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Annika Theodoulou reports grants from National Institute for Health Research. Jamie Hartmann-Boyce reports grants from National Institute for Health Research and grants from Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation.
Annika’s profile appears below. View Jamie’s profile.