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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Relapse prevention in UK Stop Smoking Services: a qualitative study of health professionals' views and beliefs

Shade A Agboola1*, Tim J Coleman2 and Ann D McNeill1

Author Affiliations

1 UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, Division of Epidemiology & Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

2 UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, Division of Primary Care, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:67  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-67

Published: 24 April 2009



NHS Stop Smoking Services in the UK provide cost effective smoking cessation interventions, but approximately 75% of smokers who are abstinent at 4 weeks relapse to smoking by 12 months. This study aimed to explore health professionals' understanding of relapse prevention interventions (RPIs), the feasibility of offering such support and whether and how these are currently used in UK NHS Stop Smoking Services.


Sixteen health professionals working in UK NHS Stop Smoking Services, selected from those attending a national conference were interviewed and Framework Analysis was used to identify recurrent key themes and concepts in their perceptions and experiences of providing relapse prevention interventions (RPIs).


Interviewees had diverse perceptions of relapse prevention as a concept. Whilst relapse prevention was largely seen as support to prevent abstinent smokers from relapsing to smoking, some interviewees stated that RPIs were being delivered to lapsed or relapsed smokers. Current provision of RPIs was most commonly described as behavioural counselling being offered predominantly after completed cessation treatment, often in the format of 'rolling groups' which the client was encouraged to attend. Commonly identified barriers to the introduction of RPIs were funding and government targets focussed on short term cessation, smokers' low uptake of offered RPIs and an uncertain evidence base for their effectiveness. Interviewees were positive about the potential use of pharmacotherapy for relapse prevention, but were negative about the possibility of introducing proactive telephone counselling for this purpose.


There is currently no shared understanding of the concept of relapse prevention amongst this sample of health professionals working in UK NHS Stop Smoking Services. For RPIs to be systematically delivered via these services, a commonly-held, widely-accepted and understood definition of relapse prevention would be needed. Other barriers towards introducing RPIs, such as their weak evidence and the short term cessation-focussed targets against which UK stop smoking services are measured, would also need addressing and interventions which are acceptable to abstinent smokers would need to be developed.