Background: Many smokers give up smoking on their own, but materials giving advice and information may help them and increase the number who quit successfully.
Objectives: The aims of this review were to determine the effectiveness of different forms of self-help materials, compared with no treatment and with other minimal contact strategies; the effectiveness of adjuncts to self help, such as computer-generated feedback, telephone hotlines and pharmacotherapy; and the effectiveness of approaches tailored to the individual compared with non-tailored materials.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group trials register using the terms 'self-help', 'manual*' or 'booklet*'. Date of the most recent search April 2005.
Selection criteria: We included randomized trials of smoking cessation with follow up of at least six months, where at least one arm tested a self-help intervention. We defined self help as structured programming for smokers trying to quit without intensive contact with a therapist.
Data collection and analysis: We extracted data in duplicate on the participants, the nature of the self-help materials, the amount of face-to-face contact given to intervention and to control conditions, outcome measures, method of randomization, and completeness of follow up. The main outcome measure was abstinence from smoking after at least six months follow up in people smoking at baseline. We used the most rigorous definition of abstinence in each trial, and biochemically validated rates when available. Where appropriate, we performed meta-analysis using a fixed-effect model.
Main results: We identified sixty trials. Thirty-three compared self-help materials to no intervention or tested materials used in addition to advice. In 11 trials in which self help was compared to no intervention there was a pooled effect that just reached statistical significance (N = 13,733; odds ratio [OR] 1.24, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.07 to 1.45). This analysis excluded two trials with strongly positive outcomes that introduced significant heterogeneity. Four further trials in which the control group received alternative written materials did not show evidence for an effect of the smoking self-help materials. We failed to find evidence of benefit from adding self-help materials to face-to-face advice, or to nicotine replacement therapy. There were seventeen trials using materials tailored for the characteristics of individual smokers, where meta-analysis supported a small benefit of tailored materials (N = 20,414; OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.26 to 1.61). The evidence is strongest for tailored materials compared to no intervention, but also supports tailored materials as more helpful than standard materials. Part of this effect could be due to the additional contact or assessment required to obtain individual data. A small number of other trials failed to detect benefits from using additional materials or targeted materials, or to find differences between different self-help programmes.
Authors' conclusions: Standard self-help materials may increase quit rates compared to no intervention, but the effect is likely to be small. We failed to find evidence that they have an additional benefit when used alongside other interventions such as advice from a healthcare professional, or nicotine replacement therapy. There is evidence that materials that are tailored for individual smokers are effective, and are more effective than untailored materials, although the absolute size of effect is still small.