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Assessing fidelity of delivery of smoking cessation behavioural support in practice

Fabiana Lorencatto12*, Robert West3, Charlotte Christopherson4 and Susan Michie2

Author Affiliations

1 NHS Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training, Dept. Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, WC1E 7HB, UK

2 Centre for Outcomes Research and Effectiveness, Dept. Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, WC1E 7HB, UK

3 CRUK Health Behaviour Research Centre, Dept. Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, London, WC1E 7HB, UK

4 Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, WC1E 7HB, UK

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Implementation Science 2013, 8:40  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-8-40

Published: 4 April 2013



Effectiveness of evidence-based behaviour change interventions is likely to be undermined by failure to deliver interventions as planned. Behavioural support for smoking cessation can be a highly cost-effective, life-saving intervention. However, in practice, outcomes are highly variable. Part of this may be due to variability in fidelity of intervention implementation. To date, there have been no published studies on this. The present study aimed to: evaluate a method for assessing fidelity of behavioural support; assess fidelity of delivery in two English Stop-Smoking Services; and compare the extent of fidelity according to session types, duration, individual practitioners, and component behaviour change techniques (BCTs).


Treatment manuals and transcripts of 34 audio-recorded behavioural support sessions were obtained from two Stop-Smoking Services and coded into component BCTs using a taxonomy of 43 BCTs. Inter-rater reliability was assessed using percentage agreement. Fidelity was assessed by examining the proportion of BCTs specified in the manuals that were delivered in individual sessions. This was assessed by session type (i.e., pre-quit, quit, post-quit), duration, individual practitioner, and BCT.


Inter-coder reliability was high (87.1%). On average, 66% of manual-specified BCTs were delivered per session (SD 15.3, range: 35% to 90%). In Service 1, average fidelity was highest for post-quit sessions (69%) and lowest for pre-quit (58%). In Service 2, fidelity was highest for quit-day (81%) and lowest for post-quit sessions (56%). Session duration was not significantly correlated with fidelity. Individual practitioner fidelity ranged from 55% to 78%. Individual manual-specified BCTs were delivered on average 63% of the time (SD 28.5, range: 0 to 100%).


The extent to which smoking cessation behavioural support is delivered as specified in treatment manuals can be reliably assessed using transcripts of audiotaped sessions. This allows the investigation of the implementation of evidence-based practice in relation to smoking cessation, a first step in designing interventions to improve it. There are grounds for believing that fidelity in the English Stop-Smoking Services may be low and that routine monitoring is warranted.

Behaviour change interventions; Smoking cessation; Delivery; Fidelity; Implementation