More information about text formats
NOT PEER REVIEWED
The paper by Filippidis et al  provides data re-confirming the well-known fact that most ex-smokers attempt to quit without using any form of assistance, whether pharmaceutical, professional or via e-cigarettes. Moreover, the proportion of ex-smokers trying to quit unaided increased substantially in Europe between 2012-17 (ex-smokers using no assistance increased from 73.9% to 80.7%), a period where e-cigarette use accelerated in some nations.
Regrettably however, this study does not permit any comparison of success rates by method, as no data are reported on which method of cessation (assisted v unassisted) was used by ex-smokers on their last, final (and so successful) quit attempt.
The authors report that those “who successfully quit reported much lower use of cessation assistance compared with smokers who had tried to quit without success” and suggest that this might reflect indication bias, whereby those who find it harder to quit self-select to use assistance, leaving the low hanging fruit of non- or less addicted smokers to fall off the smoking tree using their own determination.
While this will be true for some, there are many former heavy smokers who quit without assistance. This argument also borrows assumptions from the discredited hardening hypothesis , which holds, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that as smoking prevalence falls the concentration of hardened, more deeply addicted smokers increase...
While this will be true for some, there are many former heavy smokers who quit without assistance. This argument also borrows assumptions from the discredited hardening hypothesis , which holds, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that as smoking prevalence falls the concentration of hardened, more deeply addicted smokers increases.
If our concern is (as it should be) to better understand the means of quitting that produce the largest net volume of ex-smokers across whole populations, studying the methods these former smokers used when they succeeded is critical. Yet the “inverse impact law of smoking cessation  shows that unassisted cessation, which undisputedly delivers more ex-smokers than any other method, is hugely neglected in smoking cessation research .
It is almost as if researchers want to turn away from learning more about the most successful route that has always delivered the largest number of successful quits. 
Rather than seeing the increase in unassisted quitting as something to be highlighted as a positive, motivating celebration of agency that could be megaphoned in campaigns to smokers imbued with pessimistic messages about how hard quitting is going to be, the authors conclude that their findings ”highlight the need for approaches to ensure that smokers get support”.
In 40 years of tobacco control, I cannot ever recall attending a meeting or conference on cessation where those whose living depended on them selling smoking cessation aids or providing professional cessation services did not reach similar conclusions. Yet 40 years on, the same cracked record is being played: we need to convince more smokers that they should not try foolishly to quit alone and that they need our help!
Analysis at the level of the success of quit “attempts” often shows that head-to-head, unassisted cessation attempts are less successful than those using assistance. But many so-called cessation attempts are empty gestures akin to those who attempt to get fit by buying an exercise bike, use it once or twice and then consign it to the corner. West and Sohal’s work on catastrophe theory noted that many who were not planning to quit at time 1, had succeeded at time 2. They suggested that “smokers have varying levels of motivational “tension” to stop and then “triggers” in the environment result in a switch in motivational state. If that switch involves immediate renunciation of cigarettes, this can signal a more complete transformation than if it involves a plan to quit at some future point.” 
The importance of continually stimulating the motivational tension to stop smoking and providing both informational and policy triggers for quitting cannot be over-emphasised.
It is long overdue that we gave far more attention to the net contribution of unassisted cessation at the population level. [7 ] Many smokers have little interest in being helped to quit. In this, they are very aware of many friends and acquaintances who quit alone when they were sufficiently motivated to do so. Over 40 years of professional hand-wringing, research and campaigning about how to undermine unaided quitting and sell more drugs and clinic appointments have thankfully done little to erode this.
1. Filippidis FT, Mons U, Jiminez-Ruiz C, Vardavas CI. Changes in smoking cessation assistance in the European Union between 2012 and 2017: pharmacotherapy versus counselling versus e-cigarettes. Tobacco Control http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-054117
2. Cohen JE, McDonald PW, Selby P. Softening up on the hardening hypothesis. Tobacco Control ttp://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050381
3. Chapman S. The Inverse Impact Law of Smoking Cessation. Lancet 2009; 373(9665):701-3.
4. Chapman S, Mackenzie R. The global research neglect of unassisted smoking cessation: causes and consequences. PLoS Medicine 2010; 7(2): e1000216. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000216.
5. Smith A, Chapman S. Quitting unassisted: the 50 year neglect of a major health phenomenon. JAMA 2014;311(2):137-138. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.282618.
3. West R, Sohal T. “Catastrophic” pathways to smoking cessation: findings from national survey. BMJ. 2006 Feb 25; 332(7539): 458–460.
4. Smith A, Carter SM, Chapman S, Dunlop S, Freeman B. Why do smokers try to quit without medication or counseling? A qualitative study with ex-smokers. BMJ Open 5:e007301 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007301