Smokers with depression who successfully quit smoking using stop smoking services may see an improvement in their mental health, according to new research,* funded by Cancer Research UK and published in Annals of Behavioural Medicine.

“This study draws attention to a vulnerable group who need more specialist support in their attempts to give up smoking.”Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK

Researchers at Kings College London and the Charles University in Prague who studied people attending a stop smoking clinic in the Czech Republic, found that successful quitters had a considerable improvement in their depression.**

And two-thirds (66.3 per cent) of those who had moderate or severe depression when smoking described no or minimal symptoms during a one-year follow up.

The researchers also found that all those who received the specialist behavioural support and medication provided by the clinic, were more likely to remain smoke free for a year if they went back for repeat visits.

But they noted that people with depression were still less likely to quit successfully than those without. This highlights that different groups can benefit to different extents from the same support, and suggests that people with mental health problems need extra help.

Smoking rates among people with mental health conditions are more than double those of the general population (approximately 40% vs. 20%). It’s estimated that of the 9.6 million adult smokers in the UK, around three million have a mental health condition.

Smoking is the single biggest factor contributing to a lower life expectancy associated with a mental health condition – a decrease of about 10-20 years compared to the general population***.

Dr Leonie Brose, a Cancer Research UK fellow based at King’s College London and senior author of the publication, said: “Our study shows that stop smoking services can be very effective at supporting people with depression, and that increased visits greatly improve the success of quit attempts.

“The findings also suggest that giving up smoking may improve depressive symptoms, improving mental as well as physical health.

“While there’s been an overall fall in smoking rates in recent decades, there hasn’t been the same decline among people with mental health problems.

“We hope that this research will help boost mental health services and stop smoking services in the UK giving effective support and medication to those who need it most.”

This new study highlights just how vital stop smoking services are. In England, smokers who use similar services**** are around three times more likely to quit successfully than those using no support at all.

The research is published as stop smoking services across England face continued budget cuts.

Local councils run the services, but funding comes from Westminster. Year on year, cuts to the Public Health Grant from HM Treasury have placed considerable strain on local councils, and budgets for stop smoking services have been repeatedly slashed since 2013.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “This study draws attention to a vulnerable group who need more specialist support in their attempts to give up smoking.

“When it comes to tobacco-related illness, reducing the dramatic difference in the health of social groups is a really important issue.

“Because of this, it’s vital to protect funding for specialist stop smoking services, which remain the most effective route to quitting.”


*Stepankova, L., Kralikova, E., Zvolska, K. et al. ann. behav. med. (2016). doi:10.1007/s12160-016-9869-6


**The direction of the association between smoking cessation and depression was not verified in this study. It is possible that people who experienced improvements in their depression were more likely to quit successfully, however the authors suggest that in line with previous research, this study adds to growing evidence that quitting smoking may lead to an improvement in depression.

***Statistics from ASH:  ‘The Stolen Years’ (a CRUK endorsed paper)

Action on Smoking and Health (“ASH”) is a campaigning health charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco. It was established in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians. ASH receives funding for its full programme of work from the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. It has also received project funding from the Department of Health to support tobacco control.

****Stop smoking services in both the UK and the Czech Republic offer a combination of behavioural support and medication. In the Czech Republic, the services are delivered by a nurse or clinician, participants cover the cost of their own medication, and quitting rates are higher. In the UK, treatment is usually restricted to a shorter period of time, but support is free and medication is offered at the cost of a prescription.

Local authorities became responsible for Stop Smoking Services and tobacco control in 2013. These services were previously delivered by the NHS.

For more information about Cancer Research UK’s “Don’t Quit on Us” campaign, go to

Cancer Research UK is a member of the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership which was established in 2016.  Its aim is to reduce smoking prevalence among people with a mental health condition and by doing so address the leading cause of health inequalities and premature mortality in this population.