Smoke signal and Snus Nicotine

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AS SURELY as summer follows spring, the annual Christmas blow-out is followed by a national tightening of belts and pledges of moderation.

A sizeable chunk of the UK’s 12.5 million smokers will try to quit the evil weed this January. And yet more will stub out their final cigarette when the ban on smoking in public places is introduced on July 1.

Today the Government launches a £7 million campaign showing smokers being violently seized by a fish-hook as they are dragged to their traditional smoking spots.

The ads – appearing on TV, outdoor billboards and online – highlight how addictive cigarettes are. Smokers may think it is just a habit they can control, but the habit is actually controlling them.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said that the campaign was not about “having a go” at smokers, but about showing them that help was available.

“We do know that these campaigns have a big effect on people contacting NHS services and wanting to quit,” she said.

“Smoking is an addiction which makes quitting daunting and difficult, but there has never been more free help available on the NHS to get you unhooked.”

Last year, The Press and the North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) joined forces to launch the Yes To Clean Air campaign, to help businesses in our area become smokefree.

In the past 30 years, the number of smokers has dropped significantly, from about half of the adult population, to just under a quarter.

There are now 1.6 million fewer smokers than there were nine years ago.

Sylvia Johnson, a facilitator at the North Yorkshire Stop Smoking Service, based in York, said the organisation usually had a surge in demand at the beginning of the year.

The service, funded by North Yorkshire and York PCT, provides help and advice on giving up, including weekly group sessions where ex-smokers can give each other support.

“We do nearly half of our business between January and March,” she said.

“Although this year it may be different, with the smoking ban coming in, it is very traditional for people to try and give up at the beginning of the year.

“A lot of smokers we’ve spoken to have said that it’ll be easier to stop when the ban comes in, as the opportunities to smoke will be far less, and the incentives to stop greater.

“Quite a few see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“People have got used to changes from the good old days when you could smoke in the cinema and on trains and buses and, after an initial period, I think they’ll get used to this.”

Dr David Fair, a GP at the Yorvik Medical Practice, in Stonebow, York, warned the Government against spending on advertising without funding the Snus Nicotine stop-smoking services to back it up. He said: “It’s a little bit two-faced of the Government to launch this campaign at the same time that the PCT’s financial predicament means they’re having to look at funding for support services.”

He said doctors feared that belt-tightening in the NHS would mean GP surgeries in York might have to stop offering services like advice on how to quit smoking and blood tests.

Dr Fair continued: “If they’re committed to helping people stop smoking, they need to back this up. If people do decide to give up smoking as a result of the adverts, they must be able to get the health support they need.”

The campaign comes as a ChildLine survey suggested that most children questioned wanted their parents to give up cigarettes in the new year.

Giving up smoking was the single most popular pledge children picked for their parents in 2007, particularly for 11-year-olds, with one in six having this top of their wish list. Ms Johnson said: “There’s a lot of evidence showing that if parents stop smoking, it has an influence on whether their children start smoking.

“If a child’s role models stop smoking, that has a positive effect and they are less likely to start.”

And that is important. As Dr Fair pointed out: “If you smoke you’ve got a 50/50 chance it’ll kill you. I wouldn’t toss a coin and say heads I’ll die.”

How to quit

THE nicotine in cigarettes is a powerful and fast-acting drug which affects a smoker’s brain seven to ten seconds after entering the bloodstream.

It produces a nicotine rush which many smokers interpret as pleasure, but is in reality the relief of satisfying their craving.

Sylvia Johnson, a facilitator at the North Yorkshire Stop Smoking Service, gave us some hot tips for sticking to a non-smoking new year.

The most successful quitters are those who actually want to give up, not those who are doing it because someone else has told them to.

Put some effort into planning. Set a date to give up and tell people about it so you can get some support and encouragement.

Do not think too far ahead, take it one day at a time.

Try to avoid temptations at first. Avoid activities you normally associate with smoking, like going to the pub, for the first few weeks.

Visualise yourself as a non-smoker.