Interventions to increase adherence to medication for tobacco dependence

Gareth Hollands, Felix Naughton, Amanda Farley, Nicola Lindson, Paul Aveyard

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Pharmacological treatments for tobacco dependence, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), have been shown to be safe and effective interventions for smoking cessation. Higher levels of adherence to these
medications increase the likelihood of sustained smoking cessation, but many smokers use them at a lower dose and for less time than is optimal. It is
important to determine the effectiveness of interventions designed specifically to increase medication adherence. Such interventions may address motivation to use medication, such as influencing beliefs about the value of taking medications, or provide support to overcome problems with maintaining adherence.

To assess the effectiveness of interventions aiming to increase adherence to medications for smoking cessation on medication adherence and smoking abstinence compared with a control group typically receiving standard care.

Search methods
We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialized Register, and clinical trial registries ( and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform) to the 3 September 2018. We also conducted forward and backward citation searches.

Selection criteria
Randomised, cluster-randomised or quasi-randomised studies in which adults using active pharmacological treatment for smoking cessation were allocated to an intervention arm where there was a principal focus on increasing adherence to medications for tobacco dependence, or a control arm providing standard care. Dependent on setting, standard care may have comprised minimal support or varying degrees of behavioural support. Included studies used a measure that allowed assessment of the degree of medication adherence.

Data collection and analysis
Two authors independently screened studies for eligibility, extracted data for included studies and assessed risk of bias. For continuous outcome measures, we calculated effect sizes as standardised mean differences (SMDs). For dichotomous outcome measures, we calculated effect sizes as risk ratios (RRs). In meta-analyses for adherence outcomes, we combined dichotomous and continuous data using the generic inverse variance method and reported pooled effect sizes as SMDs; for abstinence outcomes, we reported and pooled dichotomous outcomes. We obtained pooled effect sizes with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using random-effects models. We conducted subgroup analyses to assess whether the primary focus of the adherence treatment ('practicalities'
versus 'perceptions' versus both), the delivery approach (participant versus clinician-centred) or the medication type were associated with effectiveness.

Main results
We identified two new studies, giving a total of 10 studies, involving 3655 participants. The medication adherence interventions studied were all provided in addition to standard behavioural support.They typically provided further information on the rationale for, and emphasised the importance of, adherence to medication or supported the development of strategies to overcome problems with maintaining adherence (or both). Seven studies targeted adherence to NRT, two to bupropion and one to varenicline. Most studies were judged to be at high or unclear risk of bias, with four of these studies judged at high risk of attrition or detection bias. Only one study was judged to be at low risk of bias.
Meta-analysis of all 10 included studies (12 comparisons) provided moderate-certainty evidence that adherence interventions led to small improvements in adherence (i.e. the mean amount of medication consumed; SMD 0.10, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.18; I² = 6%; n = 3655), limited by risk of bias. Subgroup analyses for the primary outcome identified no significant subgroup effects, with effect sizes for subgroups imprecisely estimated. However, there was a very weak indication that interventions focused on the 'practicalities' of adhering to treatment (i.e.
capabilities, resources, levels of support or skills) may be effective (SMD 0.21, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.38; I² = 39%; n = 1752), whereas interventions focused on treatment 'perceptions' (i.e. beliefs, cognitions, concerns and preferences; SMD 0.10, 95% CI –0.03 to 0.24; I² = 0%; n = 839) or on both (SMD 0.04, 95% CI –0.08 to 0.16; I² = 0%; n = 1064), may not be effective. Participant-centred interventions may be effective (SMD 0.12, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.23; I² = 20%; n= 2791), whereas those that are clinician-centred may not (SMD 0.09, 95% CI –0.05 to 0.23; I² = 0%; n = 864).

Five studies assessed short-term smoking abstinence (five comparisons), while an overlapping set of five studies (seven comparisons) assessed long-term smoking abstinence of six months or more. Meta-analyses resulted in low-certainty evidence that adherence interventions may slightly increase short-term smoking cessation rates (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.21; I² = 0%; n = 1795) and long-term smoking cessation rates (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.40; I² = 48%; n = 3593). In both cases, the evidence was limited by risk of bias and imprecision, with CIs encompassing minimal harm as well as moderate benefit, and a high likelihood that further evidence will change the estimate of the effect. There was no evidence that interventions to increase adherence to medication led to any adverse events. Studies did not report on factors plausibly associated with increases in adherence, such as self-efficacy, understanding of and attitudes toward treatment, and motivation and intentions to quit.

Authors' conclusions
In people who are stopping smoking and receiving behavioural support, there is moderate-certainty evidence that enhanced behavioural support focusing on adherence to smoking cessation medications can modestly improve adherence. There is only low-certainty evidence that this may slightly improve the likelihood of cessation in the shorter or longer-term. Interventions to increase adherence can aim to address the practicalities of taking medication, change perceptions about medication, such as reasons to take it or concerns about doing so, or both. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm which approach is more effective. There is no evidence on whether such interventions are effective for people who are stopping smoking without standard behavioural support.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-55
Number of pages55
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2019


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