Exploring consensus on how to measure smoking cessation: A Delphi study

Kei Long Cheung, Dennis de Ruijter, Mickael Hiligsmann, I. Elfeddali, Ciska Hoving, Silvia M. A. A. Evers, Hein de Vries

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Different criteria regarding outcome measures in smoking research are used, which can lead to confusion about study results. Consensus in outcome criteria may enhance the comparability of future studies. This study aims (1) to provide an overview of tobacco researchers' considered preferences regarding outcome criteria in randomized controlled smoking cessation trials, and (2) to identify the extent to which researchers can reach consensus on the importance of these outcome criteria.


A three-round online Delphi study was conducted among smoking cessation experts. In the first round, the most important smoking cessation outcome measures were collected by means of open-ended questions, which were categorized around self-reported and biochemical validation measures. Experts (n = 17) were asked to name the outcome measures (as well as their assessment method and ideal follow-up period) that they thought were important when assessing smoking-related outcomes. In the second (n = 48) and third rounds (n = 37), a list of outcome measures-identified in the first round-was presented to experts. Asking them to rate the importance of each measure on a seven-point scale.


Experts reached consensus on several items. For self-reports, experts agreed that prolonged abstinence (6 or/and 12 months), point prevalence abstinence (7 days), continuous abstinence (6 months), and the number of cigarettes smoked (7 days) are important outcome measures. Experts reached consensus that biochemical validation methods should not always be used. The preferred biochemical validation methods were carbon monoxide (expired air) and cotinine (saliva). Preferred follow-ups included 6 and/or 12 months, with or without intermediate measurements.


Findings suggest only partial compliance with the Russell standard and that more outcome measures may be important (including seven-day point-prevalence abstinence, number of cigarettes smoked, and cotinine when using biochemical validation). This study showed where there is and is not consensus, reflecting the need to develop a more comprehensive standard. For these purposes we provided suggestions for the Russell 2.0 standard.

Original languageEnglish
Article number890
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Smoking cessation
  • Delphi
  • Consensus
  • Outcome criteria
  • Measure
  • Tobacco control
  • Biochemical validation
  • Self-report
  • Abstinence


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