Individual behavioural counselling for smoking cessation

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Mar 31;3(3):CD001292. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001292.pub3.


Background: Individual counselling from a smoking cessation specialist may help smokers to make a successful attempt to stop smoking.

Objectives: The review addresses the following hypotheses:1. Individual counselling is more effective than no treatment or brief advice in promoting smoking cessation.2. Individual counselling is more effective than self-help materials in promoting smoking cessation.3. A more intensive counselling intervention is more effective than a less intensive intervention.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialized Register for studies with counsel* in any field in May 2016.

Selection criteria: Randomized or quasi-randomized trials with at least one treatment arm consisting of face-to-face individual counselling from a healthcare worker not involved in routine clinical care. The outcome was smoking cessation at follow-up at least six months after the start of counselling.

Data collection and analysis: Both authors extracted data in duplicate. We recorded characteristics of the intervention and the target population, method of randomization and completeness of follow-up. We used the most rigorous definition of abstinence in each trial, and biochemically-validated rates where available. In analysis, we assumed that participants lost to follow-up continued to smoke. We expressed effects as a risk ratio (RR) for cessation. Where possible, we performed meta-analysis using a fixed-effect (Mantel-Haenszel) model. We assessed the quality of evidence within each study using the Cochrane 'Risk of bias' tool and the GRADE approach.

Main results: We identified 49 trials with around 19,000 participants. Thirty-three trials compared individual counselling to a minimal behavioural intervention. There was high-quality evidence that individual counselling was more effective than a minimal contact control (brief advice, usual care, or provision of self-help materials) when pharmacotherapy was not offered to any participants (RR 1.57, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.40 to 1.77; 27 studies, 11,100 participants; I2 = 50%). There was moderate-quality evidence (downgraded due to imprecision) of a benefit of counselling when all participants received pharmacotherapy (nicotine replacement therapy) (RR 1.24, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.51; 6 studies, 2662 participants; I2 = 0%). There was moderate-quality evidence (downgraded due to imprecision) for a small benefit of more intensive counselling compared to brief counselling (RR 1.29, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.53; 11 studies, 2920 participants; I2 = 48%). None of the five other trials that compared different counselling models of similar intensity detected significant differences.

Authors' conclusions: There is high-quality evidence that individually-delivered smoking cessation counselling can assist smokers to quit. There is moderate-quality evidence of a smaller relative benefit when counselling is used in addition to pharmacotherapy, and of more intensive counselling compared to a brief counselling intervention.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Counseling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy, Group
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self-Help Groups
  • Smoking / drug therapy
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking Prevention*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices