The Department of Health’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have published new guidelines for tobacco harm reduction in the UK. This world first, recognises that some people may not be able to quit smoking in one step.
At the heart of tobacco harm reduction is the concept that the flexible and long-term use of nicotine is always better for smokers and people around them than continuing to smoke tobacco. Experts believe this will provide a significant opportunity to help many more smokers to quit.
Smoking remains the single biggest preventable cause of early death and illness in the UK, with one in five adults (around 10 Million) being smokers. Approximately half of persistent cigarette smokers are killed by their habit and a quarter are still in middle age. Tobacco control measures have led to a decrease in Smoking prevalence but the decline in smoking rates has lost momentum in recent years with no significant change in the prevalence of smoking in the last six years.
The annual cost to the NHS attributable to smoking is estimated at around £2.7bn. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, with recent figures published in the Annals of Oncologyshowing the number of lung cancer cases in the UK – particularly among women – is still rising.
To date, stop smoking services have been available to those smokers who want to quit in one step with, or without, the help of an NRT (such as gums or patches). The amount of NRT offered varies but tends to range from four - 12 weeks on prescription, with some smokers receiving the support from a Stop Smoking advisor.
The new tobacco harm reduction recommendations understand that the journey to quitting is different for every smoker. It no longer needs to be ‘succeed or fail’ by a set deadline. The journey can now involve flexible and long-term use of NRT. This will give healthcare professionals the opportunity to bring more people into the stop smoking services and make inroads into smoking prevalence.
Nearly 40 per cent of smokers would be more likely to try and quit using a nicotine-containing product if they were available for longer than 12 weeks, a recent survey reveals, which is promising given that it also shows 64 per cent of smokers currently want to quit.