Background: There is limited population-based evidence on long-term smoking relapse rates after 1 year of abstinence. We estimate the incidence of relapse and evaluate demographic, health, socioeconomic characteristics, and episodic events associated with an increased probability of relapse.
Methods: Smoking relapse is studied using a subsample of individuals in the annual British Household Panel Survey, between 1991 and 2006, who reported not being a smoker for at least 1 year (two consecutive surveys) after previously reporting smoking (n = 1,578). A random-effects panel logit regression was used to examine the association between smoking relapse and length of abstinence, demographic, socioeconomic, and health variables.
Results: Data were available on individuals for a mean of 5.2 years after the initial 1-year smoking abstinence. We estimated that 37.1% (34.0%-40.5%; 95% CI) of the sample would relapse within 10 years. Increased length of abstinence, increased age, being married, being educated to degree level, and a high frequency of General Practitioner (GP) visits were significantly associated with a lower risk of relapse. Conversely, higher relapse rates were significantly associated with mental health problems and having a partner who started smoking.
Conclusions: A significant proportion of smokers relapse after more than 1 year of abstinence. This study sheds light on factors associated with long-term relapse. This can form the basis for designing public health interventions to prolong abstinence and targeting interventions at former smokers at the highest risk of relapse.