Telephone counselling for smoking cessation.
BACKGROUND: Telephone services can provide information and support for smokers. Counselling may be provided proactively or offered reactively to callers to smoking cessation helplines. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effect of proactive and reactive telephone support to help smokers quit. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group trials register for studies using free text term 'telephone*' or the keywords 'telephone counselling' or 'Hotlines' or 'Telephone'. Date of the most recent search: August 2000. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials in which proactive or reactive telephone counselling to assist smoking cessation was offered to smokers or recent quitters. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Trials were identified and data extracted by one person and checked by a second. The main outcome measure was abstinence from smoking after at least six months follow-up. We used the most rigorous definition of abstinence in each trial, and biochemically validated rates where available. Participants lost to follow-up were considered to be continuing smokers. Where interventions were similar, we performed meta-analysis using a fixed effects model to give an odds ratio. MAIN RESULTS: Twenty three trials met inclusion criteria. Ten trials compared proactive counselling to a minimal intervention control. There was statistical heterogeneity, with three trials showing a significant benefit, and seven showing non significant differences. Four trials adding telephone support to a face to face intervention control failed to detect a significant effect on long term quit rates. Four trials failed to detect an additional effect of telephone support in users of nicotine replacement therapy. Providing access to a hotline showed a significant benefit in one trial and no significant difference in two. Varying the type of counselling provided has not been shown to affect outcome. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Proactive telephone counselling can be effective compared to an intervention without personal contact. There was heterogeneity between trials so the size of effect is uncertain. The available evidence neither confirms nor rules out a benefit of telephone counselling as an adjunct to face to face counselling or pharmacotherapy. Further trials randomising access to helplines are unlikely to be done but indirect evidence suggests they can be a useful part of a smoking cessation service.