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The new technologies supporting stop smoking services  

By Solutions for Health

While COVID-19 brings challenges for stop smoking services, online support and an AI-powered robo-coach mean there’s digital support to help people kick the habit.

Smokers are up to fourteen times more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19 than non-smokers according to recent research in China. The pandemic presents a clear need for accessible stop smoking services, but health care providers are facing unprecedented challenges in meeting them.

Advances in technology have led to the evolution and upscaling of remote services which are perfectly placed to support smokers to become quitters, even amidst a possible second wave of COVID-19. An exciting new artificial intelligence app called Quit with Bella and online support from experienced quit-smoking advisors are providing a life-line to current services and the people who need them most.

With smoking and COVID-19 having an effect on the lungs, the repeated hand-to-mouth action provides an easy route of infection, and smoking weakens the immune system, which may explain the higher chance of complications and needing treatment in intensive care. Notably, the risks are worse for those with co-morbidities such as being overweight or having a heart condition or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking often exists alongside these conditions or even causes them.

The pandemic appears to be having mixed effects on attitudes to health and lifestyle behaviours. On the one hand, the link between smoking, COVID-19 and health more broadly is not lost on the public. An estimated one million people kicked the habit in the months leading to July and some local stop smoking services are reporting an increase in uptake. On the other hand, stress, anxiety and depression are triggers for increased smoking and relapsing back into smoking.

Smoking is a notoriously difficult habit to break without behavioural support, and smokers are four times more likely to quit when they have support. There are inequalities in smoking prevalence and access to stop smoking services, and these are being exacerbated by the pandemic and the economic uncertainty that comes with it.

The need and demand for accessible stop smoking services is there, and while the loss of face-to-face services poses a challenge for support provision, services that function remotely are coming into their own.

Solutions 4 Health are the UK’s largest provider of stop smoking services, with almost 20 years of experience supporting smokers to become quitters. When COVID-19 began to spread around the globe, the company upscaled its remote services to meet the surge in demand. The online face chat, phone and text services and artificial intelligence (AI) app, Quit with Bella, are now supporting more people than ever through their quit attempts, providing timely and cost-effective solutions to the challenges faced by quitters and service providers.

Keshav Sankla, AI Programme Lead, commented: “We developed Quit with Bella to provide an evidence-based stop smoking service at scale, and to equip people with their own robot advisor that they could access whenever they needed to. It’s great to see that it’s supporting thousands of people to give up, and helping people who would not normally engage in a traditional service.”

Saleen Ahmed-Khan, Head of Integrated Lifestyle Services at Solutions 4 Health, explains: “We’re seeing that COVID is affecting some groups more than others, particularly BAME and disadvantaged communities. We’ve always been creative in how we reach people who need us, and our online, phone and video support, and posting of NRT directly to people’s homes, ensured that that there was no disruption for existing users when lockdown was announced, and new clients have benefitted from this too.”

The app, which launched in early 2018, was created using the wealth of data amassed over 10 years of service provision and insights from over 200 stop smoking advisors, along with the NCSCT and NICE guidelines, advice from stop smoking experts and user feedback. Bella uses the same evidence-based techniques that a real person would.

These remote services have added bonuses: they provide privacy for those who might not want to attend a clinic in a public place, and they negate the need for travel, time and access to appointments.

Quit with Bella uses artificial intelligence to provide quitters with their very own personalised robo-coach. Users are able to have human-like conversations with Bella to get evidence-based advice and support whenever they need it, 24/7. Bella can even provide vouchers for free NRT and e-cigarettes in commissioned areas.

Bella can also support existing staff and services. Some people like to use a combination of person-led support in office hours and Bella out of hours, and she frees up staff time for clients who really need one-to-one attention. There is also no time limit on how long people can work with Bella, as she can provide support beyond the usual 12-weeks.

4 week quit rates with Bella are similar to the gold standard one-to-one services according to a recent independent evaluation in Dudley. The app reaches those in priority areas who may not have engaged with a traditional service, and the costs were also much lower, showing that Bella can provide a cost-effective and evidence-based service at scale.

“The app is reaching high risk groups within our ethnic communities, younger people, and those who are sick, disabled or unemployed” commented Bal Kaur, Acting Director of Public Health, Dudley Council. Elizabeth West, Stop Smoking Manager in Oxford, said: “Quit with Bella has already helped over 200 people to quit smoking in Oxfordshire… not only that, but it has supported our stop smoking advisors to support more people.”

While COVID-19 is testing individuals and healthcare services to their limits, there are solutions available to make better health and well-being a reality, and Stoptober is an excellent time to put them into practice.
Learn more at and Solutions 4 Health Smokefreelife.