The right kind of support can help people stop smoking

13 March 2024

To mark National No Smoking Day, we are sharing recent research from LSBU researchers on stop smoking services. They evaluated the Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes Stop Smoking Service (BMK SSS) and found that offering all service-users the choice of face-to-face or telephone support may be the most appropriate and effective option for stop smoking services.

A further key finding was that service users valued choice, flexibility, and their relationship with advisors. Most smokers preferred face-to-face appointments with advisors, but specialist groups had a slight preference for telephone appointments.

Commenting on this finding, researcher Dr Thomas Mills said: “We found it surprising that people with complex support needs did not rank face-to-face as their preferred delivery option. Our research suggested that this group do not necessarily want or need face-to-face. And yet face-to-face can have benefits, such as the ability to check carbon monoxide levels, which some people find motivational.”

The BMK SSS only offered face-to-face appointments until 2019 when it introduced a telephone ‘quit line’. The service then offered telephone appointments only to most smokers but continued to offer in-person appointments for specialist groups, such as pregnant smokers or people with a long-term health condition. Smokers in these specialist groups were less likely to quit compared to other smokers and required more support to achieve a successful quit.  Since May 2022 the BMK SSS has embarked on an extensive outreach programme to try to reach smokers from underserved groups. The evaluation found that community outreach was helpful in reaching new groups, especially those who were disconnected from health services. It showed that outreach events needed to be tailored to the groups they were aimed at, for instance working with partner organisations such as Housing Associations or GP practices. Outreach is, however, resource intensive and the local service is now doing it more sparingly and strategically, because of this research.

A Senior BMK SSS Staff Member summarised the organisational learning from the outreach programme: “Build a network of really good, trusted organisations to work with and make sure that you know where you’re going to is going to be beneficial.”

Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of death and disease and estimated to cost the NHS £2.5 billion annually. There are currently 6.4 million smokers in the UK and research shows around half want to quit. People receiving support from a local Stop Smoking Service are four times more likely to quit compared with people using willpower alone. This shows these Services are a powerful public health tool and an essential part of the Government’s aim for England to be smokefree by 2030.

The evaluation was led by Professor Lynne Dawkins and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Team (PHIRST). This scheme funds evaluations of public health interventions being run by local government organisations across the UK. PHIRST South Bank is led by Susie Sykes, Professor of Public Health and Health Promotion in the Institute of Health and Social Care. Read more about the project on the NIHR PHIRST website.

Interested in leading UK research on addictive behaviours? Come to our LSBU Public Lecture by Professor Marcantonio Spada who will give an overview of the research he has conducted in the area of metacognition in addictive behaviours over the last 25 years.