Can partners help smokers give up? Common sense says yes but evidence lacking

This woman wants to help her partner give up smoking. It’s ‘Stoptober’, so she knows they can get some tips from the NHS Smokefree website and that he would be joining thousands of others attempting to quit this month. She thinks she’ll get onto the alcohol later. It’s a little early for the Santa hat, but she decides to overlook it. But will her support make a difference?

Whether partner support can help people give up smoking was the focus of a Cochrane review, recently updated, which looked for randomised controlled trials comparing people participating in the same programme to help them quit but with or without support from partners. They only considered studies which reported follow-up (of those who took part in the study) for six months or longer. After an extensive search they found 13 suitable studies, involving over 2000 people.

Here’s what they found:

  • no increase in quit rates in intervention groups (programme with partner support) compared with control groups (same programme but without partner support)
  • overall, the studies reported quit rates of 0 to to 65% for the intervention groups and 0 to 88% for control groups

The reviewers point out that failing to find an effect of the intervention doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work.

Here are some possible reasons why no effect was seen:

  • the studies may have been too small to have enough statistical power to show an effect
  • partner support interventions may lead to short-term success, but this review did not include studies with only short-term follow-up
  • partner types varied between different studies, from spouses to co-workers, and whether they were smokers wasn’t always recorded. Looking at data for these different subgroups wasn’t possible
  • partner support was an extra element of a programme to help smokers quit, which may in itself have met smokers’ support needs
  • or, it just doesn’t work….

No conclusions can be made, from the evidence in the review, about the impact of partner support on smoking cessation. Common sense says it may well help, but researchers need to design and cary out bigger and better trials before we have the evidence to prove it or otherwise.

So next time you find yourself in a ‘situation’, with your partner displaying multiple addictive behaviours and sporting some surprising headgear, think carefully about which thing you’re going to tackle.


Park EW, Tudiver FG, Campbell T. Enhancing partner support to improve smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD002928. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002928.pub3. Cochrane summary of this review.

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Sarah Chapman

My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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