Study: Web Site Works Best As Stand-Alone Intervention to Help Patients Quit Smoking

When it comes to helping people quit smoking, more isn’t always better. UW-CTRI researchers have found that significantly helped patients quit smoking, but this effect was reduced when patients visiting the site also received periodic e-mail messages from the study.

“We hypothesized that this might be due to a degree of annoyance or fatigue felt by those who received the e-mail messages,” said lead author and UW-CTRI Director of Research Administration Dave Fraser. “There was some definite evidence that those receiving the e-mails used the Web site less frequently.

“The people trying to quit smoking via a Web site do appear to be an unique group of smokers who want to do their quitting ‘in private’ without a lot of outside noise,” Fraser said. “Other evidence is how few of them were willing to take phone calls from the Cancer Information Service (CIS) quitline when they were assigned to that treatment.”

There was evidence in the study that medication (nicotine mini-lozenges) was effective and this effect persisted when combined with the active Web site.

For this study, Fraser and colleagues used the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) and randomly assigned 1,034 smokers who entered to “on” and “off” conditions of five quit-smoking interventions:

  • The National Cancer Institute’s Web site ( vs. a “lite” Web site), which garnered 1.5 million visitors in 2012. Study recruitment coincided with a national campaign directing smokers to the site.
  • Telephone quitline counseling (vs. none), a five-call service provided by the CIS. The US Public Health Service Clinical Practice Guideline recommends quitline treatment as an effective, evidence-based intervention to help people break their addiction to tobacco use.
  • A smoking cessation brochure (vs. a lite brochure).
  • Motivational e-mail messages (vs. none), accessible via both mobile and desktop devices.
  • A mailed, free two-week supply of nicotine mini-lozenges (vs. none).

Analyses showed that the brochures and e-mails weren’t very effective. However, the Web site and medications were successful, as well as the quitline (for those who were willing to use it). “We encourage clinicians to use one or more of these three interventions to help patients quit,” Fraser said.

Fraser D, Kobinsky K, Smith SS, Kramer J, Theobald WE, Baker TB. Five Population-Based Interventions for Smoking Cessation: A MOST Trial. Translational Behavioral Medicine. Online August 2014. [Abstract]

For a complete list of UW-CTRI research papers since inception, click here.