The Internet has become a regular part of daily life for the majority of people in many parts of the world. It now offers an additional means of effecting changes to behaviour such as smoking.
To determine the effectiveness of Internet-based interventions for smoking cessation.
We searched theCochraneTobaccoAddictionGroup SpecializedRegister, with additional searches ofMEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar. There were no restrictions placed on language of publication or publication date. The most recent search was in June 2010.
We included randomized and quasi-randomized trials. Participants were people who smoked, with no exclusions based on age, gender, ethnicity, language or health status. Any type of Internet-based intervention was eligible. The comparison condition could be a nointervention control or a different Internet site or programme.
Data collection and analysis
Methodological and study quality details were extracted using a standardised form. We selected smoking cessation outcomes at short term (one to three months) and long term (6 months or more) follow up, and reported study effects as a risk ratio with 95% confidence intervals. Only limited meta-analysis was performed, as the heterogeneity of the data for populations, interventions and outcomes allowed for very little pooling.
Twenty trials met the inclusion criteria. There were more female than male participants. Some Internet programmes were intensive and included multiple outreach contacts with participants, whilst others relied on participants to initiate and maintain use. Ten trials compared an Internet intervention to a non-Internet based smoking cessation intervention or to a no intervention control. Six of these recruited adults, one recruited young adult university students and three recruited adolescents. Two trials of the same intensive automated intervention in populations of adult who smoked showed significantly increased cessation compared to printed self-help materials at 12 months. In one of these, all trial participants were provided with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Three other trials in adults did not detect significant long term effects. One of these provided access to a website as an adjunct to counselling and bupropion, one compared web-based counselling, proactive telephone-based counselling or a combination of the two as an adjunct to varenicline. The third only provided a list of Internet resources. One further short-term trial did show a significant increase in quit rates at 3 months. A trial in college students increased point prevalence abstinence after 30 weeks but had no effect on sustained abstinence. Two small trials in adolescents did not detect an effect on cessation compared to control, whilst a third small trial did detect a benefit of a web-based adjunct to a group programme amongst adolescents.
Ten trials, all in adult populations, compared different Internet sites or programmes. There was some evidence that sites that were tailored and interactive might be more effective than static sites, but this was not detected in all the trials that explored this factor. One large trial did not detect differences between different Internet sites. One trial of a tailored intervention as an adjunct to NRT use showed a significant benefit but only had a 3-month follow up. One trial detected evidence of a benefit from tailored email letter compared to a non-tailored one. Trials failed to detect a benefit of including a mood management component (three trials), or an asynchronous bulletin board. Higher abstinence rates were typically reported by participants who actively engaged with the programme (as reflected by the number of log-ins).
Results suggest that some Internet-based interventions can assist smoking cessation, especially if the information is appropriately tailored to the users and frequent automated contacts with the users are ensured, however trials did not show consistent effects.