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Explaining the social gradient in smoking cessation: it’s not in the trying, but in the succeeding
  1. D Kotz1,
  2. R West2
  1. 1
    Department of General Practice, School for Public Health and Primary Care (CAPHRI), Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  2. 2
    Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Dr Robert West, Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK; robert.west{at}


Objective: Smokers from more deprived socioeconomic groups are less likely to become ex-smokers. This study examined how far this is attributable in England to a social gradient in quit attempts, use of aids to cessation and/or the success of quit attempts.

Design: Cross-sectional household survey.

Setting: England.

Participants: 6950 respondents aged 16+ who had smoked in the past year, of whom 2983 had tried to stop in the past year and 469 reported having stopped at the time of the survey.

Main outcome measures: Reported attempts to stop smoking in the past year; the use of stop-smoking medications (nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion or varenicline); use of behavioural support offered by the National Health Service Stop Smoking Services; current smoking status.

Results: There was a large difference in success rates of quit attempts: 20.4% in social grade AB versus 11.4% in social grade E of those who made attempts were still not smoking by the time of the survey (p<0.001). However, there was no difference across social grades in the rate of attempts to stop (42.7% in social grade AB to 41.3% in E), use of medications to aid cessation (46.7% of those making quit attempts in AB to 50.9% in E) or use of NHS Stop Smoking Services (7.0% of those making quit attempts in AB to 4.8% in E).

Conclusions: Smokers in more deprived socioeconomic groups are just as likely as those in higher groups to try to stop and use aids to cessation but there is a strong gradient across socioeconomic groups in success, with those in the lowest group being half as likely to succeed compared with the highest. Determining the cause of, and counteracting, this gradient is paramount in reducing health inequalities.

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  • Competing interests: RW undertakes research and consultancy for, and has received travel expenses and hospitality from, companies that develop and market smoking cessation medications. He has a share on a patent for a novel nicotine delivery device.

  • Funding: The Smoking Toolkit Study is funded by Cancer Research UK, Pfizer, J&J and GlaxoSmithKline. DK is the recipient of a European Respiratory Society Fellowship (Number 351).