Bid to make Lothians smoke-free zone

Experts believe the best way to combat smoking is to stop youngsters taking it up in the first place. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Experts believe the best way to combat smoking is to stop youngsters taking it up in the first place. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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One smoker is quitting every two hours in the Lothians after a record rush to quit the habit.

Today, the Evening News launches our Smoke Free Lothian campaign to help cut the annual 1800 death toll still further.

Record numbers of people are stopping smoking with one person quitting every two hours across the Lothians.

The rising cost of the habit, much better support services and the impact of the smoking ban and other changes in the law are said to be behind the big rise.

But smoking still kills 1800 people in the Lothians each year and costs NHS Lothian £76.7 million to treat patients who indulge.

That is why the Evening News is helping launch the Smoke Free Lothian campaign today – national No Smoking Day – alongside NHS Lothian and Community Pharmacy Scotland.

Nearly a quarter of people still smoke in the region but we hope to drive that down towards zero. Driving smoking levels down by just one per cent in the Lothians would save 81 lives a year.

Dr Dermot Gorman, public health consultant for NHS Lothian, said giving up is never easy, but he was confident many will rise to the challenge.

“It’s a big ask because nicotine is highly addictive but we do have increasingly successful services that we’re very proud of, they are making a difference,” he said.

“There are lots of reasons why people have decided to stop smoking – it transforms lives and leaves more money in the pocket.

“The mixture of legislation, pricing and our services has really helped in recent years. A lot of people have also chosen to quit themselves and buy over-the-counter medication. But we still have some distance to go.”

Nearly 13,000 people have kicked the habit over the last three years – equating to two every hour – helping bring down smoking rate in the Lothians by 0.5 per cent a year.

In order to be classified as smoke free, smoking rates in the region need to come down to a fifth of the current level which sees about a quarter of adults smoke, and that is the ultimate aim.

And with a recent poll finding 70 per cent of smokers want to quit – combined with a drive to prevent kids from starting up – there is every hope that we can make a big difference.

Better medication and rising numbers of support groups have played a huge role in helping in the fight so far.

Scottish Government initiatives including banning smoking in public places, raising the age limit, increasing tax on cigarettes to drive the price of the habit up and increasing education amongst youngsters have also helped fuel the success.

And Dr Gorman believes that the improved support services are vital to the future, too, as there is increasing evidence that group-based quitting works best.

So called “open groups”, where people attend sessions at different levels of quitting, are proving especially effective as those who have successfully stopped help reinforce people who are at the difficult early stages.

Just as key in the fight is educating children not to take up the habit, a stance which is shared by the majority of anti-smoking groups.

John Watson, from Ash Scotland, said the smoking population has more than halved since the charity started 40 years ago and continues its downward trend.

In the 1970s, before the extent of health risks was fully known, it was considered “the normal thing to do”, with 70 per cent of people in Scotland smoking compared with 24 per cent today.

This reduction has saved one million people in Scotland from greatly increased risks of cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke and other smoking-related illnesses.

Smoke-free public places and stricter regulations have massively helped but experts believe the best way to combat smoking is to stop youngsters from taking it up, with two-thirds of smokers starting when they were aged under 18.

“We’ve got a generation growing up who have never actually seen tobacco advertising so it doesn’t have the same ubiquitous presence in society that it used to have because tobacco companies were some of the biggest advertisers, dominating sports and projecting an image they wanted to,” said Mr Watson.

“Years ago it used to be that people didn’t really make a conscious decision to smoke, they just went with the flow. I think we’ve made a huge impact in terms of changing the culture so that it’s no longer just something that you do.

“Clearly there is still a lot to be done but improvements to education in children, government legislation and changing attitudes towards smoking is all helping the fight.”

Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, and has also increased the sales age from 16 to 18, and banned vending machines and the display of smoking products in shops.

It has led the way on activity to introduce plain packaging, having set out its commitment in last year’s Tobacco Strategy. This month the UK Government is expected to decide whether to introduce the 
policy.

Now politicians and charities are rallying to back our campaign to continue the fight against smoking.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “I fully support this campaign being launched by NHS Lothian, Community Pharmacy Scotland and the Evening News. Smoking is a scourge on Scotland’s health and there’s no better time to reflect on that than national No Smoking Day.

“Every year, tobacco use contributes to 13,000 deaths and 56,000 hospital admissions. That is why we are committed to achieving our vision of smoke-free Scotland by 2034.”

“Our Tobacco Control Strategy recognises that Scotland’s health service should be an exemplar in providing smoke-free environments by April 2015. I welcome NHS Lothian’s early commitment to this.

“The NHS also has a key role in helping smokers to quit and reducing health inequalities. It is no coincidence that people die younger in those areas with the highest smoking rates.

“That is why our new HEAT (Health Improvement, Efficiency, Access to Services and Treatment) target is focused solely on delivering longer quits in our most deprived communities.”

‘WE HAVE A DUTY TO TACKLE THE ISSUE’

Professor Alison McCallum is director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian.

Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of ill-health and premature death in Scotland and we all have a duty to try and tackle it head on.

We all know the harmful effects of tobacco and the considerable cost of treating smoking-related disease. But rather than just knowing the facts, we need to take action now.

We know that by creating smoke-free environments, we will benefit the health, safety and welfare of all users of NHS Lothian premises.

We want to emphasise we are here to support staff, patients and visitors, should they decide to quit or want advice on how to manage their smoking while in hospital.

NHS Lothian runs a specialist service helping people to stop smoking. We have advisers both in the community and in our main hospitals, with specialist services for pregnant women and young people.

We offer open access support sessions which are free and take place in a range of venues and locations. Our advisers can also arrange for medication to help you stop smoking from your GP, all for free.

We also have a community pharmacy scheme which also provides stop smoking support. By using this service you are four times more likely to quit than by doing it on your own.

We are really pleased that over the last year, we have exceeded the three-year HEAT (Health Improvement, Efficiency, Access to Services and Treatment) target of 11,686 people successfully quitting at one month post quit in Lothian, with 12,842 individuals becoming smoke free across the region.

Looking ahead, we will be working closely with community health partnerships and with local authorities and partners as we know the coming year’s target of 1765 successful quits at 12 weeks post quit for those who are pregnant, have mental health issues and chronic disease, is ambitious.

But we are confident that we can meet this target by refocusing smoking cessation services across community and acute settings.

We want to help all those in Lothian who want to become smoke free.

So please come forward and be a part of the Smoke Free Lothian campaign.

SUPPORT AND ADVICE TO GIVE UP

Free support to stop smoking is available across the Lothians.

You can get information about your local stop smoking services from Smokeline on 0800 84 84 84, or visit www.canstopsmoking.com where you can also chat online with a trained adviser.

NHS stop smoking services are available throughout the Lothians. Trained, friendly advisers will help you by giving expert advice and practical support.

This can be in a group with other people who are also trying to give up smoking, or as one-to-one support. Advisers can help with choosing medication such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), varenicline (Champix) or bupropion (Zyban).

You can also access NHS support at any community pharmacy with weekly one-to-one support.