Ever since the world caught on to the dangers of smoking, more smokers than ever have made an effort to quit. In the U.S., 2002 marked the first time ever that there were more former smokers than current smokers, a number that continues to rise. Quitting is ridiculously hard, however, and even though 68.8 percent of smokers wish to quit completely, few actually do — only 43 percent of adult smokers quit for over a day in 2010. Though it’s unclear whether they stayed away for good, a new study finds that StopAdvisor, an interactive website (demonstration site here), can ensure they do, especially among those who may benefit most: lower income smokers.

The University College London study found that lower income smokers were 36 percent more likely to quit and remain a former smoker after using StopAdvisor instead of a website containing text about how to quit. The interactive site works from about a month before a person wants to quit to a month after their quit date, giving them personalized advice, steps, and sessions, as well as interactive menus, to help them prepare and stick to their plan.

“Going to see a specialist stop-smoking advisor of the kind that is provided free of charge and easily accessible through one’s GP (general practitioner) or the NHS (National Health System) Smokefree website remains the best way to stopping smoking,” said lead author Dr. Jamie Brown, of the university’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, in a statement. “But for the many smokers who do not want to do this, StopAdvisor should improve their chances of success.”  

The UCL study involved over 4,600 smokers, which included about 2,100 low-income smokers, defined as having never worked, being unemployed long-term, or working in manual labor. Higher level income was defined as having a managerial, professional, or intermediate occupation.

Brown’s research found that the site was especially effective in helping smokers with low incomes quit. Whereas 8.3 percent quit using StopAdvisor compared to 6.1 percent who used a regular website, there was no difference between quit rates among lower and higher income smokers — 12 percent quit both ways. Senior author Robert West said the results could “have an important impact on public health,” with “as little as one percent of six-month abstinence rates” resulting in an additional three years of life “for every hundred 40-year-old smokers” who use the site.

If Public Health England (PHE) deems StopAdvisor effective in helping people quit, then it’ll be possible to use the site not only in the UK but in the U.S. and elsewhere, too. In the U.S., where free quit-smoking services may be harder to come by, StopAdvisor may narrow disparities in health between the richer and the poorer. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over a quarter of current smokers live below the poverty level while 17 percent live at or just above it — blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of this demographic. Add the fact that these populations are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes, a risk that’s worsened by smoking, and you have a recipe for a shorter life.

“Smoking causes half of the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest,” said Martin Dockrell, Tobacco Control Programme Lead at PHE, in the statement. “That is why StopAdvisor is so important: It gives PHE a way to help more smokers quit more effectively while also reducing unacceptable levels of health inequality.”