Objective: To assess the effectiveness of including a social support intervention ('buddy system') in a group treatment programme to aid smoking cessation.
Methods: Five hundred and sixty-three smokers attended groups at a smokers' clinic. These groups were randomized either to be (a) groups in which smokers were paired with another person to provide mutual support (buddy condition: n=237 in 14 groups) or (b) to receive the same treatment without the buddy component (control: n=326 in 20 groups). Participants were seen weekly for the first 4 weeks after stopping then followed up again after 26 weeks.
Results: Smokers in the buddy condition were no more likely than smokers in the control condition to stay abstinent at 1, 4 or 26 weeks. The effect was in the right direction at week one post-quit but after controlling for potential confounders the difference was not significant (odds ratio=1.45 (95% CI; 0.92-2.29), p=0.06).
Conclusions: We were unable to show that a buddy system improved abstinence rates of group treatment programmes. This might be due to the high level of social support already achieved through the groups.
Practice implications: The buddy system is a simple and very low cost addition to a group treatment programme; but the results from this study suggest that the kind of buddy system tested may not add substantially to the success rates. However there may be merits in a more intensive or protracted form of buddying.