Helpline, Free Nicotine Patches Don't Help Smokers Quit: Study

FRIDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) — Offering smokers free nicotine patches and telephone counseling does not improve their chances of quitting, according to a new study.

The study included nearly 2,600 smokers who called the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) smoking helpline over the course of a year.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups:

  • Advice on quitting and access to the helpline, considered the “standard” treatment.
  • Advice and free nicotine-replacement therapy.
  • More intensive support, including scheduled telephone support from helpline staff.
  • Both intensive support and free nicotine-replacement therapy.

The researchers checked in with the participants six months after they reported quitting smoking. Researchers were able to reach 59 percent of all participants, and found that 19 percent of them were still smoke-free. It was assumed that those who couldn’t be contacted were smoking again.

There were no significant differences in quit rates between participants in the standard or more intensive counseling groups, or between those who were offered nicotine-replacement therapy and those who weren’t, according to the findings published online in the BMJ.

“This important trial has shed useful light on how telephone quit lines can be used to help smokers wanting to quit,” study leader Tim Coleman, of the U.K. Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham, said in a university news release. “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,” he added.

“Giving out free nicotine patches and more intensive telephone counseling through the English national quit line just doesn’t seem to work,” Coleman said. “It brings into sharp relief the need to find other ways of using quit lines to help smokers give up and to reduce the terrible effects smoking has on people’s lives and the costly burden to the NHS.”

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.