Giving smokers personalised information about their risk of ill health can double the chance of them using NHS Stop Smoking Services, and improve their chance of quitting.
The “promising” findings are from a study published in The Lancet, and come as many local councils are closing specialist services due to government cuts to public health budgets.
“A great example of how small interventions can not only benefit the public’s health, but also save money in the long-run” – Carl Alexander, Cancer Research UK
Carl Alexander, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said that the behavioural support and prescription medication offered by local Stop Smoking Services is the most effective way to stop smoking.
But recently spending on these services has decreased. Attendance across England has also decreased, with fewer than 1 in 20 smokers using the service each year.
The study compared 2 groups: 1 received an invitation to attend a no-commitment introductory session that included personalised information about health risk; the other received a standard advert for their local service.
Based on information from the person’s medical records, the personalised letter included information on individual risk of serious illness if the recipient continued to smoke. The risk was rated as being high, very high or extremely high compared to people who used to or never smoked.
The letter also included information about the effect on that risk if they quit smoking immediately.
“Smokers underestimate their own personal risk of illness,” said lead author Dr Hazel Gilbert, from UCL. “So a key aim in motivating them to try to quit is to persuade them that these risks are personally relevant.”
The study found that those who received the personalised letter were twice as likely to attend the first session of a Stop Smoking Service course compared to those who received a standard advert.
This group was then also twice as likely to complete the full 6 week course.
Of those receiving a personalised letter 17% began the course, and the majority of these also completed it.
When followed up at 6 months, the results suggest that nearly 1 in 10 of those who received a personalised invitation had stopped smoking, while the figure was just over 1 in 20 for the group who were sent a generic advert.
“The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to stop, and this highlights the critical importance of Stop Smoking Services in helping people to give up smoking,” said Alexander.
“This is why we’re calling on the government to protect the budget for these services in our Don’t Quit On Us campaign.”
The personalised letter was also more effective among men than women. Typically men are less likely to use these services and set a quit date, suggesting that this intervention could help more men use Stop Smoking Services.
The study also indicates that there was lower recruitment in areas with higher proportions of ethnic minorities, highlighting the need for more efforts to reach these communities.
Due to the economic and health burden which smoking still causes, Alexander said that the study was “a great example of how small interventions can not only benefit the public’s health, but also save money in the long-run.”