Could smokers who do not wish to quit reduce consumption with exercise?

Researchers from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD) will lead a national study with £1.8 million of funding from the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme (NIHR HTA) to test the effectiveness of new support to help smokers who want to reduce but not quit.

According to statistics from ASH, around 10 million adults in the UK smoke. Smoking prevalence has declined, yet the habit still claims approximately 100,000 lives each year. ASH claims that around two-thirds of current smokers want to reduce smoking but apart from e-cigarettes little support is available to help them - even though those who reduce are more likely to make a quit attempt.

A recent pilot study which recruited Plymouth smokers showed preliminary evidence that providing personal Health Trainer support to reduce cigarette consumption and increase physical exercise, may reduce smoking rates, encourage more quit attempts and increase short-term abstinence.

This new study aims to provide compelling evidence to support the pilot study and result in data which will bring this approach to future updated guidelines on the support which should be provided to reduce smoking.

The study will recruit 900 people who currently smoke and who wish to reduce their cigarette consumption but who may have no immediate plan to quit. The volunteers will be recruited from four cities – Plymouth, Oxford, Nottingham and London.

Half of the volunteers will receive existing advice on reducing smoking and where to get further support, while the others will receive up to eight face-to-face or phone contacts with a Health Trainer for up to eight weeks with support to reduce smoking and increase physical activity as chosen by the smoker.

After completing an initial assessment, all participants will be asked to complete various surveys and measures after three and eight months.

If they report that they are no longer smoking at three and eight months, they will be invited to attend a meeting with a researcher who will confirm their abstinence using a test to measure air levels of carbon monoxide in their breath.

If participants are still not smoking at eight months they will be followed up after 15 months.

The aim of the study is to investigate whether the Health Trainer support is better at helping people to quit smoking for longer, compared with existing support.

As well as measuring effectiveness for the quitting smoker, the research team will also estimate costs and predict long-term health and social care savings that the programme may produce.

The study, which will be managed by the UKCRC registered Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit based in Plymouth University, will start in February 2017, with recruitment from October 2017 – December 2018, and report its findings in September 2020.

Professor Adrian Taylor, Chair in Health Service Research at PUPSMD, leads the study. He said: 

“Our pilot study showed that the physical activity and smoking reduction intervention had apparent benefits to those not initially wishing to quit but who did wish to reduce smoking. This recent funding will allow us to build on those findings and to produce evidence that the method can not only help individuals, but also produce savings for health and social care too. Evidence such as this can be used by health policymakers in future stop smoking guidelines.”

This study has been funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme and is also supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC). It is a collaborative project between Plymouth University, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, St George’s University of London, Oxford University, Nottingham University, Exeter University, and Plymouth City Council.