Open Access Research article

Extended interactive voice response telephony (IVR) for relapse prevention after smoking cessation using varenicline and IVR: a pilot study

Bonnie McNaughton1*, Jiri Frohlich12, Amy Graham1 and Quincy-Robyn Young1

Author Affiliations

1 Healthy Heart Program, Providence Health Care, St. Paul’s Hospital, 1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver B.C. V6Z 1Y6, Canada

2 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:824  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-824

Published: 10 September 2013



There is a significant resumption of smoking following smoking cessation using varenicline. Both smoking cessation medications and counseling have been shown to increase smoking quit rates at one year. Thus, the combination of varenicline and interactive voice response (IVR) telephony followed by extended IVR may further improve smoking cessation rates at one and two years.


101 participants were recruited from the community via newspaper advertisement. They attended a group counseling session and were given smoking information booklets from the Canadian Cancer Society.

After 12 weeks of varenicline and 9 IVR calls, all participants who had quit smoking were randomized into 2 groups matched by levels of motivation and addiction as per baseline questionnaire score. The intervention group continued to receive bi-weekly IVR support for weeks 13 – 52. The control group no longer received IVR. The primary end-point was self-reported abstinence and exhaled carbon monoxide levels of less than 10 ppm for weeks 12, 52 and 2 years. Data were analyzed by Fisher’s exact test or Wilcoxon rank-sum test.


Of the 101 participants, 44 (43%) had stopped smoking after 12 weeks of varenicline and 9 IVR calls. Of these, 23 (52%) were randomized to receive IVR calls from weeks 13 to 52.

At 52 weeks, 26 (59%) participants remained smoke-free. Of the 23 with IVR, 12 (52.2%) stopped smoking compared to 14 of 21 (66.7%) without IVR. At 2 years, 40 of the 44 (90.9%) randomized participants were contacted and 24 of the 44 (54.5%) came in for testing. Fourteen (13% of the original cohort, 30% who were abstinent at 12 weeks and 53% who were abstinent at 52 weeks) remained smoke-free. Five of the 23 (21.7%) randomized to IVR and 9 of the 21 (42.9%) randomized to no IVR remained smoke-free at 2 years.


In this pilot study of an apparently healthy population, extended IVR did not affect abstinence rates. There was no relapse prevention benefit in offering 9 months of continued IVR to subjects who had stopped smoking after receiving 3 months of varenicline and IVR treatment.

Trial registration NCT00832806

Smoking; Non-smoking; Risk factors; Varenicline; Interactive voice response