Open Access Research article

Smoking Cessation Quitlines in Europe: Matching Services to Callers' Characteristics

Marc C Willemsen12*, Regina M van der Meer1 and Gerard M Schippers3

Author Affiliations

1 STIVORO, Dutch Expert Centre on Tobacco Control, The Hague, The Netherlands

2 CAPHRI, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

3 Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research, Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:770  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-770

Published: 18 December 2010



Telephone quitlines offer a wide range of services to callers, including advice and counsel, and information on pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation. But, little is known about what specific quitline services are offered to smokers and whether these services are appropriately matched to characteristics of smokers. This study examines how quitline services are matched to callers' level of addiction, educational level, stage-of-change with quitting, and whether they are referred by a doctor or other health professional.


Between February 2005 and April 2006, 3,585 callers to seven European quitlines responded to our survey. During the course of and immediately after the call, quitline counsellors collected descriptive data on callers' characteristics and the services they used. We then conducted four logistic regression analyses to examine the relationship between quitline services and the four caller characteristics.


Forty three percent of all callers received information on pharmacotherapy - most often nicotine patches and nicotine gum - from the counsellor. As we predicted, these callers were the heavy smokers. There was a direct correlation between the length of the conversations between the counsellor and the educational level of the smoker: the lower the education of the smoker, the shorter the call. However, we found no significant association between any other type of service and the educational level of caller. We also found a correlation between the smoker's stage of quitting and the type of advice a counsellor gives. Smokers in the action stage of quitting were more likely to receive advice (in two quitlines) or counselling (in two quitlines) than those in the preparation stage, who were less likely to be referred (in three quitlines). Very few of the total number of calls (10.7%) were from referrals by health professionals. Referred callers were more likely to receive counselling, but this was found only in four of seven quitlines.


Most of the services quitlines offer to smokers favour heavy smokers and those at a more advanced stage of cessation, but not based on their educational level. Thus, we recommend that European quitlines extend and tailor their services to include less-educated smokers.