Clinician Article

Behavioural interventions for smoking cessation: an overview and network meta-analysis.

  • Hartmann-Boyce J
  • Livingstone-Banks J
  • Ordonez-Mena JM
  • Fanshawe TR
  • Lindson N
  • Freeman SC, et al.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021 Jan 4;1:CD013229. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013229.pub2. (Review)
PMID: 33411338
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  • Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Public Health
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Psychiatry
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • FM/GP/Mental Health
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7


BACKGROUND: Smoking is a leading cause of disease and death worldwide. In people who smoke, quitting smoking can reverse much of the damage. Many people use behavioural interventions to help them quit smoking; these interventions can vary substantially in their content and effectiveness.

OBJECTIVES: To summarise the evidence from Cochrane Reviews that assessed the effect of behavioural interventions designed to support smoking cessation attempts and to conduct a network meta-analysis to determine how modes of delivery; person delivering the intervention; and the nature, focus, and intensity of behavioural interventions for smoking cessation influence the likelihood of achieving abstinence six months after attempting to stop smoking; and whether the effects of behavioural interventions depend upon other characteristics, including population, setting, and the provision of pharmacotherapy. To summarise the availability and principal findings of economic evaluations of behavioural interventions for smoking cessation, in terms of comparative costs and cost-effectiveness, in the form of a brief economic commentary.

METHODS: This work comprises two main elements. 1. We conducted a Cochrane Overview of reviews following standard Cochrane methods. We identified Cochrane Reviews of behavioural interventions (including all non-pharmacological interventions, e.g. counselling, exercise, hypnotherapy, self-help materials) for smoking cessation by searching the Cochrane Library in July 2020. We evaluated the methodological quality of reviews using AMSTAR 2 and synthesised data from the reviews narratively. 2. We used the included reviews to identify randomised controlled trials of behavioural interventions for smoking cessation compared with other behavioural interventions or no intervention for smoking cessation. To be included, studies had to include adult smokers and measure smoking abstinence at six months or longer. Screening, data extraction, and risk of bias assessment followed standard Cochrane methods. We synthesised data using Bayesian component network meta-analysis (CNMA), examining the effects of 38 different components compared to minimal intervention. Components included behavioural and motivational elements, intervention providers, delivery modes, nature, focus, and intensity of the behavioural intervention. We used component network meta-regression (CNMR) to evaluate the influence of population characteristics, provision of pharmacotherapy, and intervention intensity on the component effects. We evaluated certainty of the evidence using GRADE domains. We assumed an additive effect for individual components.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 33 Cochrane Reviews, from which 312 randomised controlled trials, representing 250,563 participants and 845 distinct study arms, met the criteria for inclusion in our component network meta-analysis. This represented 437 different combinations of components. Of the 33 reviews, confidence in review findings was high in four reviews and moderate in nine reviews, as measured by the AMSTAR 2 critical appraisal tool. The remaining 20 reviews were low or critically low due to one or more critical weaknesses, most commonly inadequate investigation or discussion (or both) of the impact of publication bias. Of note, the critical weaknesses identified did not affect the searching, screening, or data extraction elements of the review process, which have direct bearing on our CNMA. Of the included studies, 125/312 were at low risk of bias overall, 50 were at high risk of bias, and the remainder were at unclear risk. Analyses from the contributing reviews and from our CNMA showed behavioural interventions for smoking cessation can increase quit rates, but effectiveness varies on characteristics of the support provided. There was high-certainty evidence of benefit for the provision of counselling (odds ratio (OR) 1.44, 95% credibility interval (CrI) 1.22 to 1.70, 194 studies, n = 72,273) and guaranteed financial incentives (OR 1.46, 95% CrI 1.15 to 1.85, 19 studies, n = 8877). Evidence of benefit remained when removing studies at high risk of bias. These findings were consistent with pair-wise meta-analyses from contributing reviews. There was moderate-certainty evidence of benefit for interventions delivered via text message (downgraded due to unexplained statistical heterogeneity in pair-wise comparison), and for the following components where point estimates suggested benefit but CrIs incorporated no clinically significant difference: individual tailoring; intervention content including motivational components; intervention content focused on how to quit. The remaining intervention components had low-to very low-certainty evidence, with the main issues being imprecision and risk of bias. There was no evidence to suggest an increase in harms in groups receiving behavioural support for smoking cessation. Intervention effects were not changed by adjusting for population characteristics, but data were limited. Increasing intensity of behavioural support, as measured through the number of contacts, duration of each contact, and programme length, had point estimates associated with modestly increased chances of quitting, but CrIs included no difference. The effect of behavioural support for smoking cessation appeared slightly less pronounced when people were already receiving smoking cessation pharmacotherapies.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Behavioural support for smoking cessation can increase quit rates at six months or longer, with no evidence that support increases harms. This is the case whether or not smoking cessation pharmacotherapy is also provided, but the effect is slightly more pronounced in the absence of pharmacotherapy. Evidence of benefit is strongest for the provision of any form of counselling, and guaranteed financial incentives. Evidence suggested possible benefit but the need of further studies to evaluate: individual tailoring; delivery via text message, email, and audio recording; delivery by lay health advisor; and intervention content with motivational components and a focus on how to quit. We identified 23 economic evaluations; evidence did not consistently suggest one type of behavioural intervention for smoking cessation was more cost-effective than another. Future reviews should fully consider publication bias. Tools to investigate publication bias and to evaluate certainty in CNMA are needed.

Clinical Comments

FM/GP/Mental Health

Studies so far have also achieved only relatively short-term effects on sustained smoking abstinence. Tailored or focused programmes may be needed using single or combinations of treatments to achieve better outcomes. However, we also need to be realistic as to the problems of change in this population, who as a result of the nature of their mental illness, may be less motivated or less able to change their lifestyle.

FM/GP/Mental Health

This is very long.

FM/GP/Mental Health

The results are expected and it is very good to have the evidence supporting them synthetized and highlighted in this review. It is particularly relevant to psychiatry due to the high prevalence of smoking in patients with severe mental illness.


This a well worn body of knowledge.

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