THE highest ever number of Lothian smokers tried to kick the habit last year, with health chiefs spending a record £2.2 million on nicotine- replacement treatments to assist them.
Latest government figures for Lothian show that around 12,000 people tried to quit in the 12 months to March – assisted by anti-smoking aids from doctors and pharmacies – with just over 40 per cent remaining smoke-free after one month. Free nicotine patches and chewing gum were handed out in their thousands, with the annual cost rising from £102,000 to £2.2m over the last 12 years.
Doctors and patient groups welcomed the findings and said the cash represented a sound investment compared with the huge financial burden of treating smoking-related conditions such as lung cancer or bronchitis.
But pro-smoking lobby group Forest questioned the effectiveness of nicotine-replacement treatments and claimed constant pressure to quit had left smokers “reaching for the fags”.
Dr Dermot Gorman, a consultant in public health for NHS Lothian, said the items offered “very good value for money” and made a significant difference to success rates for people determined to quit.
He said: “It’s the highest number of people trying to quit that we’ve recorded and we’re ahead of the Scottish Government targets, so we’re pleased about that. This money is very effective in stopping cancer and lung diseases in the long term. For money and health reasons, most people do want to quit. The aids do make a lot of difference. Smokers have a physical dependence and they make it easier to control.”
A number of initiatives designed to reduce smoking rates in Lothian – where just under a quarter of the population are smokers – have been rolled out in recent years. These include one-to-one counselling, community-based meetings and targeting smokers who have been admitted to hospital, as well as offering the nicotine-replacement therapies.
Recent efforts have focused on deprived areas of the region, which typically have higher smoking rates. Of the 12,094 attempts to quit in Lothian, 7435 were made in the most deprived areas, with 3006 still non-smokers after one month. The number who manage to quit permanently is not recorded.
Dr Jean Turner, a former GP who is now chief executive of the Scotland Patients Association, backed the efforts.
She said: “Smoking has such devastating consequences – lung cancer is one of the deadliest conditions. If people stop, it will prevent lung and cardiovascular disease and help the cost to the health service. I think it’s money well spent.”
But Simon Clark, director of Forest, said the £2.2m was excessive and that smokers more than paid for any costs to the health service through high taxes on tobacco. He said: “There must be a lot of non-smokers aggrieved that so much public money is being spent. Evidence suggests that these items have a limited impact and without willpower they won’t work well.
“I think a lot of people these days are reaching for the fags in defiance because they feel they are being constantly pressured to give up, rather than being able to make a decision in their own time. There’s a fine line between help and coercion.
“People choose to smoke in the first place – if they want to quit they should do that without the state interfering.”
Paid to stay off the fags
NICOTINE gum and patches are by far the most common quit-smoking aids handed out in Lothian, although inhalers, nasal sprays and prescription-only tablets are also available on the NHS.
More novel ways to help people quit smoking have been adopted in other parts of Scotland. In 2008, NHS Tayside announced a plan to spend £500,000 over two years to pay people to stay off the fags.
The ex-smokers were paid £12.50 a week for a maximum of three months – but only if they passed a weekly carbon monoxide test.