Public Health Article

Motivational interviewing for smoking cessation

Review Quality Rating: 10 (strong)

Citation: Lindson N., Thompson T.P., Ferrey A., Lambert J.D., & Aveyard P. (2019). Motivational interviewing for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Art. No.: CD006936.

Evidence Summary Article full-text PubMed LinkOut Plain-language summary


Background Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a directive patient-centred style of counselling, designed to help people to explore and resolve ambivalence about behaviour change. It was developed as a treatment for alcohol abuse, but may help people to a make a successful attempt to stop smoking.
To evaluate the efficacy of MI for smoking cessation compared with no treatment, in addition to another form of smoking cessation treatment, and compared with other types of smoking cessation treatment. We also investigated whether more intensive MI is more effective than less intensive MI for smoking cessation.
Search methods
We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialised Register for studies using the term motivat NEAR2 (interview OR enhanc OR session OR counsel OR practi OR behav) in the title or abstract, or motivation as a keyword. We also searched trial registries to identify unpublished studies. Date of the most recent search: August 2018.
Selection criteria
Randomised controlled trials in which MI or its variants were offered to smokers to assist smoking cessation. We excluded trials that did not assess cessation as an outcome, with follow-up less than six months, and with additional non-MI intervention components not matched between arms. We excluded trials in pregnant women as these are covered elsewhere.
Data collection and analysis
We followed standard Cochrane methods. Smoking cessation was measured after at least six months, using the most rigorous definition available, on an intention-to-treat basis. We calculated risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for smoking cessation for each study, where possible. We grouped eligible studies according to the type of comparison. We carried out meta-analyses where appropriate, using Mantel-Haenszel random-effects models. We extracted data on mental health outcomes and quality of life and summarised these narratively.
Main results
We identified 37 eligible studies involving over 15,000 participants who smoked tobacco. The majority of studies recruited participants with particular characteristics, often from groups of people who are less likely to seek support to stop smoking than the general population. Although a few studies recruited participants who intended to stop smoking soon or had no intentions to quit, most recruited a population without regard to their intention to quit. MI was conducted in one to 12 sessions, with the total duration of MI ranging from five to 315 minutes across studies. We judged four of the 37 studies to be at low risk of bias, and 11 to be at high risk, but restricting the analysis only to those studies at low or unclear risk did not significantly alter results, apart from in one case - our analysis comparing higher to lower intensity MI. We found low-certainty evidence, limited by risk of bias and imprecision, comparing the effect of MI to no treatment for smoking cessation (RR = 0.84, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.12; I2 = 0%; adjusted N = 684). One study was excluded from this analysis as the participants recruited (incarcerated men) were not comparable to the other participants included in the analysis, resulting in substantial statistical heterogeneity when all studies were pooled (I2 = 87%). Enhancing existing smoking cessation support with additional MI, compared with existing support alone, gave an RR of 1.07 (95% CI 0.85 to 1.36; adjusted N = 4167; I2 = 47%), and MI compared with other forms of smoking cessation support gave an RR of 1.24 (95% CI 0.91 to 1.69; I2 = 54%; N = 5192). We judged both of these estimates to be of low certainty due to heterogeneity and imprecision. Low-certainty evidence detected a benefit of higher intensity MI when compared with lower intensity MI (RR 1.23, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.37; adjusted N = 5620; I2 = 0%). The evidence was limited because three of the five studies in this comparison were at risk of bias. Excluding them gave an RR of 1.00 (95% CI 0.65 to 1.54; I2 = n/a; N = 482), changing the interpretation of the results. Mental health and quality of life outcomes were reported in only one study, providing little evidence on whether MI improves mental well-being.
Authors' conclusions
There is insufficient evidence to show whether or not MI helps people to stop smoking compared with no intervention, as an addition to other types of behavioural support for smoking cessation, or compared with other types of behavioural support for smoking cessation. It is also unclear whether more intensive MI is more effective than less intensive MI. All estimates of treatment effect were of low certainty because of concerns about bias in the trials, imprecision and inconsistency. Consequently, future trials are likely to change these conclusions. There is almost no evidence on whether MI for smoking cessation improves mental well-being.


Addiction/Substance Use, Adults (20-59 years), Behaviour Modification (e.g., provision of item/tool, incentives, goal setting), Chronic Diseases, Clinic, Community health centre, Hospital, Meta-analysis, Phone, Seniors (60+ years), Smoking Cessation/Tobacco Use

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