Counselling and free nicotine patches could double cigarette quit rates

In collaboration with the Press Association

Telephone-based counselling and free nicotine patches have been shown to greatly increase the number of people who successfully manage to give up smoking, according to US researchers.

A study published in the journal Tobacco Control found that increasing the provision of telephone-based 'Quitline' smoking cessation services and offering free nicotine patches is a cost-effective way of increasing the number of successful quitters.

Quitline is a telephone-based counselling service provided in every state in the US, enabling callers to benefit from counselling calls alongside free nicotine replacement therapy.

A study by the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research in Portland, the Oregon Health Department and a phone-based tobacco treatment programme called Free & Clear found that a promotion to combine a 30-minute telephone counselling session with a two-week free supply of nicotine patches led to a rise in callers from 6,426 to 13,646 per year.

In addition, the rate of people who successfully gave up smoking nearly doubled and the actual number of people who were successful quadrupled from 527 to 2,142.

The researchers also noted that, while the total costs of the programme were higher with the inclusion of free nicotine patches, the cost per successful quitter fell from $3,778 (£1,827) to $1,050 (£508).

Lead author Dr Jeffrey Fellows, an investigator at Kaiser Permanente, commented: "This study shows that offering free nicotine replacement therapy as part of Quitline counselling can dramatically increase the number of smokers who quit and reduce the average cost per quit."

Meanwhile, a separate study looking at 4,600 smokers found that 21 per cent of smokers gave up after receiving intensive counselling (one 30-minute call and four follow-up calls) plus nicotine patches.

In comparison, just 11.7 per cent of smokers who received brief counselling (one 15-minute call) and no nicotine patches managed to kick the habit.

Lead author Dr Jack Hollis, also from Kaiser Permanente, noted that policymakers might want to opt for only brief counselling without nicotine replacement therapy to reduce the cost per caller.

"However, our results suggest that higher quit rates, greater client satisfaction and the potential to attract more smokers to Quitlines more than offset the modest additional costs," he noted.

"Heavily addicted smokers, who have the highest health care costs over time, may benefit even more from intensive counselling and medication," the researcher added.

In the UK, the NHS has a range of services to help people give up. These include stop smoking groups, one to one counselling and the 'Together' programme to help people give up at home. To find out more about these services, call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 0 169 (open 7am-11pm every day) or visit www.givingupsmoking.co.uk