Public Health England (PHE) has released a new publication which analyses the number and age of smokers in the country. More people have been quitting smoking, smoking rates have reduced by 30% over the last 20 years and currently just under 17% of people smoke. The introduction of e-cigarettes alongside the more usual cessation aids such as nicotine patches and gum have helped smokers to kick the habit, but PHE have stated an aim of having a tobacco-free generation by 2025 which is a tall order, given that 90,000 regular smokers are young - aged between 11 and 18.
The publication examines what is most effective in enabling smokers to give up cigarettes. In order to control tobacco, the government aims to encourage current smokers to quit, make the product less affordable, ensure that tobacco can no longer be promoted, regulate tobacco products, make consumers more aware of the harm that secondhand smoke and the habit itself can cause and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke.
The organisation recognises that one of the main factors that encourages young people to take up smoking is that they are used to being around people who smoke. Reducing the number of smokers around them will help to reduce the number of smokers overall. The data shows that most smokers start the habit when they are teenagers, many before they are 18. There can be many reasons why young people take up smoking, some of them complex, although some can involve peer pressure or behavioural problems. According to the data, 83% of smokers have begun smoking by the time they are 20.
Most smokers want to quit the habit, but often it takes several attempts to fully kick cigarettes. The organisation states that local stop smoking services can offer the best chances of helping people to quit. They can be up to four times more effective than over the counter nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or than having no help at all. However the data suggests that the number of people who use these services is falling. PHE point out that stop smoking services need good referral routes, including GPs, pharmacists, dental teams, midwives and mental health staff. It also suggests that the services should be responsive to local needs and targeted at those people who need it most. The numbers of mental health patients who are smoking has stayed constant and to enable these people to give up may require intensive behavioural support and higher doses of NRT.
The report points out that electronic cigarettes are currently the most popular form of quitting aid although they have not been licensed as a medicine. Most e-cigarette users are either smokers or ex-smokers. Data suggests that e-cigarettes can be effective as a tool for quitting smoking however the expert help of a local stop smoking service can help to make e-cigarettes even more effective.
Positive social networks towards the concept of quitting smoking can also help to encourage someone to give up smoking. The report shows data that suggests that the closer someone is to a person who has already quite smoking, the more likely they are to be able to stay smoke free.
The benefits of quitting smoking are experienced quite quickly. After 48 hours of stopping, things will smell and taste better, within 1-9 months, shortness of breath and coughing decreases and after 1 year, the added risk of a heart attack will fall to half that of a smoker.
Stoptober 2016 is underway. If you would like to know more, please visit the Stoptober website.
Public Health England, Sept 2016, Health matters: smoking and quitting in England
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