Smokers in England who want to stop smoking are three times more likely to succeed if they see a trained advisor than if they try by themselves, finds a new study.
It was suggested that just buying nicotine patches, gum or other licensed nicotine products from a shop does not seem to improve the chances of quitting.
This is the first study using population-based survey data that has been large enough to assess the real-world effectiveness of using National Health Service (NHS) stop-smoking services compared with quitting without help.
The study, that used data from a very large ongoing UK research programme that has been surveying smokers and recent ex-smokers since 2007, survey responses from more than 10,000 people in England who had tried to quit smoking in the prior 12 months, to discover what methods of quitting had the highest success rates.
The research showed not only that stop smoking services are smokers' best bet for stopping, but also that smokers may not be benefiting in the way they should from buying over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies.
The researchers estimate that smokers who use a combination of specialist behavioural support together with a stop smoking medicine or nicotine product in their quit attempts have approximately three times the odds of success than those who stop smoking without any aid.
But on the flip side, smokers who buy nicotine replacement therapy over-the-counter with no contact with a health professional have similar odds of success as those who stop without any aid.
This is particularly relevant at a time when the number of people using stop smoking services is falling and several million smokers buy nicotine replacement therapies over-the-counter each year.
The study is published in the medical journal Addiction.