The nature of NHS campaigns in getting people to quit.

Between April 2011 and March 2012, the NHS injected a staggering £88.2 million into stop smoking services for the public. This averages at around £220 per quitter.

A lot of Smokefree legislation has been introduced in recent years: raising the legal age to 18, increased retailer sanctions, ending tobacco advertising, picture warnings on all tobacco products and ending the open display of tobacco products in supermarkets.  Campaigns such as National Non-Smoking day and the most recent Stoptober are also internationally recognised as further attempts to encourage smokers to quit. Are they really worth it?

Although the NHS report found that the frequency of smoking is decreasing, a large quantity of smokers are still unable to quit. In the most recent NHS Stop Smoking report, April 2011-March 2012, there were 816,444 reported quit attempts. Only 49% of these quitters were still successful in their four week follow-up. The results can be seen in the table below.

The report also found that 1.5 million hospital admissions had a primary diagnosis of a smoking-related disease in 2011. This figure that has been steadily rising since the 1996/7 report, where the admissions were 1.1 million.


Stoptober is the most recent campaign launched by the NHS in a bid to tackle smoking-related illnesses. The campaign, which ran throughout October, asked smokers to quit for ‘28 days’. In the free pack they provided, smokers received a small preparation bundle of information booklets, a Stoptober stress ball, an information spin wheel and a flipchart diary giving tips each day. Smokers also received motivational updates through a smartphone app. The issue here is who it is going to benefit, and whether the huge cost is worth it for only 28 days.

Debra Warren, 52, an NHS smoking cessation advisor, expresses the huge appeal of this campaign, explaining that people are five times more likely to quit after completion. “It’s about cravings in your brain, the less cigarettes you smoke, the more the receptors die down” She said, “The campaign gives people an insight into what it’d be like to be a non-smoker, and how much healthier they feel after not smoking for 28 days.”

However, these campaigns cannot simply force an every day smoker to give up. They target those who are already willing. Many have tweeted about Stoptober, explaining their lack of interest in it, whereas others are extremely pleased with the efforts they made during that month. This demonstrates two types of smokers. Those who see smoking as an everyday, no-nonsense, social habit and those who really want to give up. The 2012 NHS Stop Smoking report took statistics from the ONS and General Lifestyle survey to investigate people’s attitudes to smoking. They found that 67% (2/3) of smokers from the survey wanted to give up, which is slightly lower than the 74% reported in 2007. The smokers who wanted to give up were asked why. The four top reasons showed that it was a health reason (83%), financial reason (31%), harm to children (22%) or family pressure (16%).

Sean O’Riordan, 39, Sussex, is one of those people. He has been smoking for 15 years. Sean decided to take part in Stoptober because he ‘wanted and needed’ to. Recently, a friend of Sean’s has been diagnosed with bowel cancer. His friend’s son is also his own son’s (Oliver) best friend and Sean reflected on the impact this had on them. “The thought of Oliver growing up without his parents was enough and Stoptober was a good reason as others were doing it too. You have to want to do it. I want to for my boys. That’s enough to want to stop.”

During the process, Sean said there were moments where he felt like he wanted a cigarette, “It’s going okay, I haven’t had one but have moments and do have the electric cigarettes when I feel I need one. It is good having the app, they send you a message every day to encourage you and tell you how your lungs are. Now my lungs feel the best they have for 15 years.”

Failed attempts

Being part of Stoptober is not enough. The NHS reported that in the latest smoking behaviour and attitudes survey, 21% of smokers that had tried to quit with three or more attempts. In a follow up investigation from 2009 – 22% had quit for a week, 29% quit for six months and only 8% quit for two years or more.

Lynn Graham, an NHS smoking cessation advisor in Middlesborough, sees fault in these campaigns, “Unfortunately I did not think Stoptober was very successful, Stoptober and National Non-Smoking days in my experience do not increase interest as much as the New Year does.

“People are more successful if they Use NRT (a Nicotine Replacement Therapy) for a period of 12 works and co-monitored fortnightly. If they have made the decision they WANT rather than NEED to stop smoking, chances of being successful are greatly increased.”

Modern methods

Alternative and modern methods are constantly being introduced to help people quit. A recent example is the Allen Carr Method – a 100-a-day smoke who quit after 33 years. In his book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, Carr teaches that the ‘relief’ smokers feel on lighting a cigarette, is the feeling experience by non-smokers all the time. At his clinic, smokers are allowed to continue smoking while their fears are removed, before encouraging the mind-set of a non-smoker. He says that willpower is not required.

 Accupunture is another method people have turned to, to try and get out of their habit. Mo Froud: BSc (Hons) MCAcC is a trained Acupuncturist in Sussex who finds many smokers coming to her with the desire to stop smoking. She uses a selection on acupuncture points on the body to help her individual patients. Her patients usually research information prior to visiting, which supports the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to quit. “I don’t really advise people on how to be successful when quitting smoking,” says Mo, “Most people that come have already made up their mind that they want to stop. The desire to quit has to be strong.”

 A successful quitter

 Where does this leave us? If you’re a smoker who enjoys the habit and doesn’t see smoking as a hindrance, national campaigns have very little significance. What they can do, is give those who are willing to quit a kick start to do so.

 The NHS cannot hand out the willingness to quit to every smoker on a plate, but they can show why, how and ways to do it.

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