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NHS Stop Smoking Counsellors: everything you need to know

NHS Stop Smoking Counsellors: everything you need to know

John Boughey |

Last fact-checked 8 January 2020 | Report a factual error on this article

If you’re trying to quit smoking this year, your local NHS Stop Smoking Service gives you the best chances of success. Stats from Public Health England show that you’re 3 times more likely to quit successfully with the help of an NHS Stop Smoking counsellor footnote 1, and it’s a completely free service; in spite of this, the majority of new quitters still try to quit using willpower alone.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at the role of a smoking cessation counsellor. We’ll explain who they are, how they’re trained and why they form such a vital piece of the quitting puzzle for so many of us here in the  UK. 

About the NHS Stop Smoking Service

Funded and operated by the NHS, the Stop Smoking Service gives tobacco quitters access to one-to-one support from a trained smoking cessation counsellor in their area. The Stop Smoking Service is completely free to use and helps tens of thousands of Brits to kick the smoking habit every month

Your chances of quitting with help from the NHS

The Stop Smoking Service doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to quit cigarettes successfully, but it gives you the best possible chance of doing so. The odds of successfully quitting ‘cold turkey’ are around 3% to 4% footnote 2, while the odds of quitting with the help of the NHS are much much higher. 

The table below shows the success rates for NHS Stop Smoking services in England for the past 10 years: it has been almost exactly 50% every year for the past decade. These statistics are verified with carbon monoxide tests (the NHS can tell if someone has smoked a cigarette recently by measuring the amount of carbon monoxide in their body). footnote 3

The stats above show that, when you’re quitting, it helps to get help. Just being accountable to someone outside of yourself is an incredibly powerful motivational tool, but if you choose an NHS counsellor to guide you through the quitting process, you give yourself the highest possible chances of success. 

About the NHS Stop Smoking Counsellors

NHS counsellors come from all walks of life. Some are ex-smokers, while others have never smoked a cigarette in their lives. NHS counsellors don’t have to have any prior experience in counselling or psychotherapy to qualify: they just need to receive specialist training on techniques proven to help smokers quit. 

Many counsellors started out working for the NHS in another capacity, then trained up as smoking cessation specialists at a later date. They work all over the country, providing a free local service to quitters. Normally, they work on a face-to-face basis, but they can also work over-the-phone and online, so lockdown isn't a problem.

What Training Do NHS Stop Smoking Counsellors Have?

Most NHS Stop Smoking counsellors in the UK are accredited by the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT). NCSCT-taught smoking cessation counsellors are incredibly effective — one reason for this is that the training programme they follow is based exclusively on techniques and methods that have been proven to work footnote 4. Questionable techniques (hypnotherapy, for instance) are completely ignored by the NCSCT unless there’s sufficient evidence that it actually helps smokers to quit. 

NCSCT’s training programmes are used in other countries, too. Ireland’s health service (the HSE) uses NSCST to deliver its intensive tobacco cessation online training programme, and overseas armed forces personnel have customised quitting programmes available to them wherever they’re stationed. 

Smoking is a global problem, and the  World Health Organisation (WHO) have their own smoking cessation counsellor training programme aimed at low-middle income countries (free to download and read at this link). footnote 5

The Best Way To Quit Is With An NHS Counsellor

We hope this article has given you a bit of an idea as to why the NHS Stop Smoking Service works so well. If you’re trying to make 2021 the year you quit, then don’t let lockdown get in your way. Pick up the phone to your local NHS Stop Smoking Counsellor and just give it a go. These counsellors are experts, and you deserve to give yourself the very best possible chance of success!

Stay safe and the best of luck for 2021!

 - John Boughey

Links & Citations

Footnote 1:

Public Health England has a helpful web page titled ‘Stopping smoking - what works?’ which is a great starting point if you’re considering quitting tobacco this year: 

Footnote 2:

On the same PHE resource mentioned above, it says “Unassisted quitting is an attempt to stop smoking with willpower alone, which is sometimes referred to as going ‘cold turkey’. It is the least effective of all stop smoking methods, with only around 3 to 4 in 100 people remaining non-smokers after a year when they choose to make an unassisted quit attempt.” 

Footnote 3:

This data comes directly from the NHS quarterly reports on the efficacy of the Stop Smoking Service. ‘Quit Attempts’ refers to the number of quit dates that were set in the time period. ‘Successes’ refers to the number of people who set quit dates and subsequently reported success (self reported). The majority of quitters had their self-reported successes verified with a Carbon Monoxide test. Source data for the table can be found at the link below: 

Footnote 4:

“The NCSCT’s training programmes will focus only on treatment approaches with clear evidence of efficacy according to the research literature.” see more at 

Footnote 5:

“This training package is based on empirical evidence, best practices and over 20 years of clinical experience in delivering quit line services. It is intended to serve as comprehensive initial training, but it is recognized that periodic refresher training will need to take place to ensure that quit line counsellors maintain proficiency and are allowed, and even encouraged, to develop even greater skill.”

See page 4 of the WHO’s training document for telephone counsellors at the link below:;jsessionid=DE9E6E9433ECA33A4363D43D8A5A7B13?sequence=1

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