In smoking - a little help goes a long way
By Russel Turk
The outcome of a marathon is often ultimately decided by willpower, but the
same cannot always be said for another of life’s great feats of endurance
– giving up smoking.
Of the estimated 13 million adult smokers in the UK, 53 per cent want to quit,
according to a recent survey. But despite studies showing that 97 per cent of
smokers who rely on willpower alone to kick the habit are unsuccessful, only
54 per cent of the would-be quitters said they would seek support.
Fear of being “lectured” or “frowned upon” were commonly cited as
reasons for not asking a GP for help, along with not wanting to waste their
This though, could not be further from the truth, according to Dr Charles
Broomhead, a GP in Sutton Coldfield who says doctors regard helping people to
quit smoking as an important part of their job.
“I would be disappointed if patients felt that they were being rejected by
their doctors; that would be sending out the wrong message,” he says.
A founding member of Smoking Cessation Action in Primary CarE (SCAPE), a group
of healthcare workers with a special interest in helping people stop smoking,
Dr Broomhead has helped devise a system to help GPs help their patients.
Consisting of a few simple questions that can be asked during a routine
appointment, Dr Broomhead says the “30-second approach” allows doctors and
nurses to identify patients who are ready to think about quitting. Such
patients can then be offered advice and help such as nicotine replacement
Amanda Sandford, research manager for ASH (Action on Smoking and Health),
supports this approach and stresses the importance of the GP’s role.
“Smoking is more than a habit, it is a condition which potentially can lead
to fatal diseases and ultimately premature deaths,” she says.
With 30 per cent of cancer deaths, 25 per cent of heart disease deaths and 83
per cent of deaths from bronchitis and emphysema caused by smoking, helping
people quit is instrumental in the battle to improve general health.
Amanda believes that asking patients about smoking should be as routine as
taking their blood pressure, and that a GP’s intervention can really make a
difference. “Increasingly now GPs have access to or are in contact with
dedicated clinics,” she says.
Part of the government’s strategy to tackle smoking is to establish smoking
cessation services in the NHS, and all health authorities are now required to
offer such services.
In addition, nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum were made
available on prescription last year. The Department of Health estimates the
cost of this initiative at between £10 million and £40 million – a small
price tag when you consider that the annual cost of treating smoking-related
health problems in the NHS is £1.7 billion.
Some people, meanwhile, prefer alternatives such as hypnotherapy. Elliott
Ward, a senior consultant to Easystop, which offers hypnotherapy at 25
clinics, says, “Clinical hypnotherapy actually bypasses the conscious part
of our brain that prevents us doing the things that we know we should do and
deals with our other conscious mind, which is far more open and far more
Finally, there is “No Smoking Day”, which comes round every March –
perfectly timed to resurrect a forgotten New Year’s resolution.
However people go about it, says Amanda, the most important thing is to keep
on trying to quit. “The more often people make the attempt, the more likely
they are to succeed.”
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