Giving smokers extra free nicotine patches or intensive NHS helpline counselling 'does nothing to help them quit'
10:18 GMT, 23 March 2012
Offering smokers free nicotine patches or intensive counselling via an NHS helpline does nothing to help them quit, a study has revealed.
Giving people extra packages of support would have no effect on the number of smokers who stop, a trial of different interventions showed.
It follows data released last August which showed that while more people in England are trying to quit with NHS help, success rates have fallen.
Research has shown giving people extra packages of support, including nicotine patches, would have no effect on the number of smokers who stop
The new study, funded by the Department of Health and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, is published online in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham, which is home to the Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, split 2,600 smokers into four groups.
The first received standard support in the form of NHS Stop Smoking Services advice, letters, emails, text messages and access to a helpline.
The second group received the same support but were also offered free nicotine replacement therapy in the form of a 21-day supply of patches.
The third group received 'proactive support' in the form of standard support plus extra counselling sessions and messages from helpline staff.
The fourth group received the same proactive support as the third group but with added free nicotine patches.
Data was collected one month and six months after the participants had agreed to quit.
The study found extra services offered by the NHS helpline do nothing to help smokers quit
The result showed that, overall, 19 per cent of the 58 per cent of people who could be contacted at six months said they had managed not to smoke, and this was backed up with breath tests.
Those whom the researchers were not able to contact were assumed to still be smoking.
The study found no significant difference in success rates between those people offered different types of supportive counselling, or between those given nicotine replacement therapy.
Some 18.2 per cent of those given proactive support had quit compared with 19.6 per cent of those who did not receive this support.
Overall, 17.7 per cent of smokers offered the patches stopped smoking, compared to 20.1 per cent of those not offered them.
Even one month after setting a quit date, no significant differences were found between the groups.
The authors concluded that offering people extra telephone counselling and free NRT through a helpline cannot be recommended.
Professor Tim Coleman, from Nottingham, led the study, and said: 'I think the results highlight just how hard it is for most people to break their addiction to tobacco and just how powerful and damaging a drug this is.
'On the basis of this study, giving out free nicotine patches and more intensive telephone counselling through the English national quitline just doesn't seem to work.
'It brings into sharp relief the need to find other ways of using quitlines help smokers give up and so to reduce the terrible effects smoking has on people's lives and the costly burden to the NHS.'
The total amount spent on England's NHS Stop Smoking Services in 2010/11 was 84.3million, NHS data shows.
This is almost 500,000 more than in the previous year and almost 60million more than a decade ago.
Last August, figures showed the number of people trying to quit smoking via NHS services has roughly trebled over the last decade but success rates have fallen.
In 2010/11, there were almost 788,000 'quit dates' set with NHS Stop Smoking Services, with almost 384,000 successful attempts.
The overall success rate is now 49 per cent, the same as the previous year, but down on the 53 per cent recorded in 2001/02.