• Proactive counselling;
  • Quitline;
  • smoking cessation;
  • telephone helplines


Aim  To evaluate the effectiveness of repeated-contact proactive telephone counselling for smoking cessation in a UK setting.

Design  Randomized controlled trial.

Setting  The Quitline®, an established national telephone counselling service available throughout the UK.

Participants and intervention  A total of 1457 callers to the Quitline in 2000 and 2001 were allocated randomly to a Control group to receive usual care or to a Repeated Contact group to be offered five proactive calls in addition to usual care. 

Measurements  Prolonged abstinence and 24-hour point-prevalent abstinence 6 and 12 months after recruitment, quit attempts and 24-hour periods of abstinence in non-quitters.

Findings  No significant differences were found between the Repeated Contact and Control groups on prolonged or point-prevalent abstinence. On an intention-to-treat basis, 9.5% of the Control group were abstinent for longer than 6 months at the 12-month follow-up, compared with 9.3% of the Repeated Contact group; 18.9% and 20.2%, respectively, were point-prevalent abstinent at the 6-month follow-up. Significantly more non-quitters in the Control group made a quit attempt in the first 6 months following recruitment than in the Repeated Contact group (62.6%/56.1%, P < 0.05).

Conclusions  Proactive telephone counselling did not significantly increase abstinence rates, and appeared to decrease quit attempts, in callers to the Quitline. A non-structured, client-led counselling protocol and insufficient pre-quit motivational counselling could account for the lack of effect.