Do interventions to enhance one-to-one support provided by partners, family members, or 'buddies' help smokers quit?

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Smokers are more likely to quit when others in their social circle quit. They are also more likely to be successful when they receive active support to quit. Life partners, family members, friends, and others are all viable sources of support. This review investigated whether interventions designed to train or guide individuals to provide support to smokers trying to quit helped more smokers to quit than stop-smoking programmes without a partner-support element.

Study characteristics

This is an update of previous reviews. We searched for studies published up to April 2018, and found three new studies that we could include, giving a total of 14 studies with 3370 participants. Studies had to be randomised controlled trials that recruited smokers trying to quit, and measured whether participants had quit smoking at least six months after the beginning of the study. The study had to include at least one group who were part of a stop-smoking programme to increase partner support, and at least one group who received a comparable stop-smoking programme without partner support. Most of the studies were conducted in the USA. At recruitment the average amount participants smoked was between 13 to 29 cigarettes a day across studies. The smoking status of partners providing support varied, but most were non-smokers. Intervention techniques ranged from low to high intensity; in some cases help was by a self-help booklet and in other cases by face-to-face counselling. In some studies researchers did not make direct contact with ‘partners’ and the smokers themselves were encouraged to find a ‘buddy’, but in other studies both the smoker and their ‘buddy’ received face-to-face support.

Key results

We combined 12 studies (2818 participants) to measure successful quitting at six to nine months follow-up, and seven studies (2573 participants) to measure quitting at 12-month follow-up. Partner support did not increase the chances of stopping smoking at either time point. We also split the studies in each analysis based on the type of partner giving support (relatives/friends/co-workers versus spouses/cohabiting partners versus fellow cessation-programme participants). There was no difference in quit rates between study groups, regardless of the type of partner providing the support. Only one study reported that partner support improved more in the group given the partner-support intervention than in the group where no partner-support intervention was provided. Another study reported that partner support improved more in a more intensive partner-support intervention than a less intensive partner-support intervention.

Quality of the evidence

We rated the overall quality of the evidence as low. This is because there were problems with the design of some of the studies. A number of important studies only used participant self-report to measure if people had quit smoking, and there is a chance that these reports may have been inaccurate. Also, very few studies found that the intervention actually increased the level of partner support that participants received. This review therefore cannot tell us whether receiving more support from a partner can help a person to give up smoking.