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Dr Bob's Blog - Quitting smoking

User AvatarPosted by Amanda Crawford at 02/03/2015 15:55:05
Dr Bob Bowes

No Smoking Day on 11 March, encouraging people to quit smoking for a day as a stepping stone to giving up for good, means there will be a lot of talk about smoking this month.

As an ex-smoker myself, I know that giving up can be hard. I stopped about 20 years ago after ten years peppered by many attempts to quit. At that stage, there was little or no NHS support for people who wanted to stop so all my attempts were solo.

What did it for me in the end was the shock of my sister having a nearly fatal heart attack. That frightened me enough to give up smoking instantly.

Everyone knows that smoking can damage your health but not all of us can have a really personal experience of what that means in practice.

However, there is much more support available these days for people who want to quit, which demonstrably helps: people are four times more likely to stop smoking for good with professional support.

Smoking is also becoming ever less acceptable.  Government interventions, including the ban on smoking in public places, and the tax escalator on tobacco, have made it an increasingly expensive, slightly shameful, habit.

The number of smokers has been dropping since the 1970s, and this is feeding through into the statistics on deaths.

So what’s our local picture? Not quite as good as you might expect.

In Sevenoaks 16.0 per cent and in Tonbridge and Malling 17.1 per cent of adults now smoke: better than the south east and national averages of 18.0 and 19.5 per cent respectively. But in Tunbridge Wells, 19.3 per cent of people smoke, and in Maidstone the figure is 20.4 per cent – which is higher than the south east and national averages. It is notable that, across the country, more people with routine and manual jobs smoke than any other group.

We have clear evidence that children exposed to smoke, including in the womb, are at higher risk of cot death, meningitis, asthma and glue ear. I would urge parents and parents-to-be who smoke to think really seriously about this, and seek help to quit. 

Deaths attributable to smoking are on the way down in the NHS West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area, which covers not just Tonbridge and Malling and Tunbridge Wells but also Maidstone borough and most of Sevenoaks district.

However, the latest statistics, for 2006-2012, show they dropped more slowly in our area than anywhere else in Kent and Medway except NHS Thanet CCG, which kept pace with us at five per cent.

The deaths don’t tell the whole story. The toll on people’s lives and wellbeing – and on those who love them – of living with long-term conditions caused by smoking is considerable, as of course, is the cost to the NHS of providing their care.

Stroke, heart disease, cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder – diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema): smoking causes years of ill-health and, often, disability.

COPD, for instance, results in the constant production of phlegm, which is very unpleasant. When COPD patients have an attack – often triggered by damp weather, or catching a cold – they can panic, feeling they can’t breathe.

In the expectation that wintry weather will continue this month, I’d like to advise people with COPD to try to stay warm, use their inhalers before going out into the cold or being active, and  speak to their GP about having stand-by antibiotics and steroids at home, so they can use them quickly if they feel an attack is brewing.

But on the principle that prevention is better than cure, I’d also invite those who may be thinking about quitting to give it a go. They will quickly find they feel better and have more energy.

Any smokers who want to quit can contact the Kent Stop Smoking Service on 0300 123 1220, text QUIT to 87023 or visit www.smokefreekent.co.uk for support. You may find the British Heart Foundation’s No Smoking Day website helpful too.

Alternatively, you can talk to your GP about help to give up smoking.