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Is the government’s smoking cessation strategy working?

December 2008

Is this government’s smoking cessation strategy working?

An opinion piece by Robin Hayley, CEO Allen Carr’s Easyway To Quit Smoking

In a word: NO!

For more than a decade so-called Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) such as nicotine patches & gum have been at the forefront of the government’s smoking cessation strategy, closely followed by advertising restrictions and bans on smoking in public places. One might think that after spending hundreds of millions of pounds on these initiatives, we should now be winning the battle.

So, how has it been going?

In spite of the multi-million pound fanfare which heralded the smoking ban on 1st July 2007 there has been “no significant difference” in the proportion of people smoking as a result of it.
The figures presented in data from the Health Survey for England, a report from The NHS Information Center, involved questioning almost 5,000 adults about smoking. The study found there was a similar percentage of smokers in England before the July 1 ban as afterwards.
Researchers examined the results for thousands of people interviewed before the ban with those questioned after July 1.
A total of 23% of men and 21% of women said they were “current smokers” before the ban, increasing slightly to 24% of men and 21% of women afterwards.
The average number of cigarettes smoked each day also did not fall significantly, the report said.
Men aged 35 to 54 smoked one-and-a-half cigarettes fewer per day on average after the ban, while men aged 55 and over smoked about three fewer.
However, young men aged 16 to 34 actually smoked more cigarettes after the ban – around one-and-a-half cigarettes per day more.
Such differences were not noticed among women.
However, the report claimed there may have been some important changes in the amount smoked by the public…whatever that means!

www.ic.nhs.uk

So the government’s smoking cessation strategy is clearly not working. Why not?

Well, it doesn’t require much intelligence to realise that NRT cannot cure nicotine addiction. You can’t cure an alcoholic by giving them alcohol intravenously, you can’t cure someone addicted to smoking heroin off tin foil by getting them to inject it, and you can’t cure smokers of nicotine addiction by giving them nicotine. Nevertheless, NRT has formed the cornerstone of the government’s attempts to address the smoking problem. The fact that the pharmaceutical industry could afford to conduct enough studies to ensure that at least some of them achieved an encouraging result, while carefully disposing of the many that did not, has been overlooked.

Many of those who championed NRT as an aid to quitting are now backtracking. Nicotine, they argue, should now be administered to addicts, not as a means of quitting the drug, but merely as a “safer alternative” to smoking. So, the objective of nicotine treatment is soon to become a long term (in other words lifelong) maintenance program with a variety of nicotine products provided for addicts to use for the rest of their lives. Allen Carr’s Easyway has consistently stated that NRT is a misnomer. Nicotine is not being replaced, it is being maintained and there’s nothing therapeutic about that. It should be called Nicotine Maintenance Treatment. Recent developments have simply confirmed this view.

The Independent newspaper in the UK reported earlier this year that the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have called for “safer nicotine delivery systems/products to be made more widely available to replace cigarettes.”

Professor John Britton, chief author of the RCP report states: “The ideal product would be a nicotine inhaler like an asthma inhaler, that delivers a hit of nicotine as close as possible to the experience of smoking a cigarette.”

Whilst dismissing future daily use of nicotine on a permanent basis as being of no more concern than current use of caffeine, Britton goes on to say: “If these people [smokers] can be encouraged to use a safer product instead, the impact on public health would be huge. If we end up with a society in which a lot of people use a safe nicotine product every day, so what?”

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Let’s ignore the fact that nicotine is itself a poison which causes tremendous harm and that little is known about the effects of long term use of these so-called “safer nicotine delivery systems”. Let’s also ignore the fact that drug addiction is classified as a disease in itself by the scientific and medical establishments and is hugely damaging both physically and psychologically, not only to addicts but also to their families. Let’s also ignore the fact that tobacco companies and pharmaceutical companies are now simply competing for the multi-billion dollar a year nicotine market. Instead, let’s confront the subject which none of the policy makers wants to talk about: that a cornerstone of the government’s smoking cessation strategy (NRT) has failed. You can’t cure addiction to nicotine by giving the addict nicotine.

Allen Carr always maintained that restricting advertising would have little effect. Youngsters don’t start smoking because of advertising but simply because other people around them are doing it. Smokers don’t continue smoking because of advertising but because they are addicted to nicotine. The advertising bans have been useful to an extent but without an effective means of curing smokers they were always likely to be impotent. Parents who smoke are the most influential advertisers of tobacco to the next generation of smokers.

Smoking bans are spreading around the world like wildfire and there is no doubt that they protect the health of non-smokers in the workplace and public places. But have they, at least, been a successful part of the smoking cessation policy?

The report from The NHS Information Center indicates not and it verifies the results from one of the pioneers of smoking bans, Ireland.
Earlier this year, The Irish Examiner newspaper reported that since the introduction of the smoking ban nearly three years ago, smoking levels have actually increased in Ireland. This was indicated by a national study of Irish health and lifestyles by the Department for Health.

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Interestingly neither study has been widely reported but it is since the Irish study that a passion for safer nicotine delivery systems appears to have developed amongst the medical and scientific establishments.
NRT has failed, restricting advertising has failed and smoking bans have failed, so the policy makers are resorting to a strategy of feeding addicts their drug on a lifelong basis and therefore perpetuating drug addiction at taxpayers’ expense. The only winner here is Big Pharma which sells NRT and the tobacco companies who are currently buying companies that already provide a variety of nicotine products.

The cost of this failed strategy should be measured not only in the hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ pounds spent on the folly, but in the continuing misery of those who remain slaves to nicotine and in countless lost lives as well.

Allen Carr’s Easyway has always clearly stated that NRT cannot help cure nicotine addiction and that advertising restrictions and smoking bans would not achieve the desired reduction in smoking populations. To do that, smokers need to be provided with an effective method of quitting. Unfortunately, although such a method has now existed for over 25 years, successive governments have so far failed to do that.

The government, Department of Health, the NHS, and the medical and scientific establishment clearly do not know what they are doing. Isn’t it time they consulted an organisation which does?

Robin Hayley is CEO of Allen Carr’s Easyway. He oversees a global network of quit smoking centers in over 40 countries and Allen Carr’s book, The Easyway To Quit Smoking, has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies in over 50 countries worldwide.

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