Stop Smoking

British study suggests that Stop Smoking Services may get greater uptake if individualized risk assessments are provided to potential participants.


The increased health risks associated with smoking – including cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, and various types of cancer – are widely recognized. Smoking is estimated to cause more than 5 million deaths world-wide every year, and as many as 80,000 deaths in England. The social and personal costs of health complications related to smoking have led governments in many countries to initiate stop smoking campaigns and provide support to individuals who are motivated to quit.

In the UK, the National Health Services (NHS) provides assistance through a program called Stop Smoking Services (SSS). Evidence suggests that the services do increase the likelihood that individuals who try to quit smoking will succeed. Among those who used the services, 35% remained smoke-free after 4 weeks, which is a higher success rate than if they had only received a prescription for a stop-smoking medication.

However, statistics also show that less than 5 percent of smokers, and less than 8 percent of patients referred by their physician, actually avail themselves of the SSS program. Moreover, numbers have in fact been decreasing in recent years.

In an effort to identify methods that might reverse this trend, researchers conducted a three-year study (from January 31, 2011, to July 12, 2014) to evaluate whether providing personalized introductory letters might encourage greater numbers of patients to seek assistance from the SSS programs.

The study, published in The Lancet, involved 4384 smokers from 99 general practices across England, who were motivated to quit and had not attended an SSS centre in the past 12 months. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups – those who received a standard letter simply advertising the SSS programs, and those who received a personalized letter discussing their individual risk profile and inviting them to attend a no-commitment introductory SSS-run session. Participants in the second group also received a follow-up letter three months later if they had not yet signed up for an SSS session.

Results suggested that the individualized approach did appear to have some influence on attendance levels. Among those who received the personalized letter, 17.4 percent of them attended the first session of a six-week SSS-run program within six months of receiving the original letter.  By comparison, only 9 percent of participants who received the standard, unpersonalized advertising letter attended the first session within the same time period.

Authors of the study interpret these results as an indicator of the positive influence that personalized interventions can have in increasing participation in stop-smoking programs. They suggest that this more proactive approach has the potential to encourage the uptake of services and may lead to higher numbers of people successfully quitting smoking.


Written By: Linda Jensen

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