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Smoke-free zone

In the UK, one in six of us are still smokers. Dr Chris Steele has run smokers’ clinics for more than 30 years and has lectured all over the world on nicotine addiction and smoking cessation techniques. He has written many books on quitting smoking and done extensive work in the media to help those who want to quit…
For many smokers, quitting can be very difficult because nicotine is a highly addictive drug. In fact, it is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Smokers use cigarettes to get nicotine into their brain but die from the tar, carbon monoxide and many other dangerous substances that are present among the 4,200 chemicals found in tobacco smoke.

Lethal habit
It is a fact that half of all regular smokers will be killed by smoking cigarettes. That is a pretty horrendous statistic, making the cigarette the only consumer product in the world that, when used in the recommended way by the manufacturer, kills half its consumers.

Imagine trying to get a new product on the market today, which has been scientifically proven to be lethal to half its customers? It would never be allowed in this health and safety-conscious society.

What would happen if there was evidence to show that a particular model of car was causing a death
rate of 50% among the customers who purchased it? There would be a public outcry, followed by intense government intervention. And the outcome would be instant withdrawal of the car from the market.

Of course, now that cigarettes are so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives and culture, it’s impossible to have them withdrawn, despite the high mortality rate.

The danger zone
Smokers don’t die of smoking-related diseases in their 20s and 30s. Why? This is because the dangers of cigarette smoke are dose-dependent, which means that diseases occur as a result of how much exposure you’ve had to all the chemicals or, in other words, how many ‘doses’ of cigarette smoke you’ve had over the years.

Smoking-related diseases really start to affect smokers after they’ve smoked 200,000 cigarettes. That sounds like a lot but you’ll reach that total when you’ve smoked 20 cigarettes a day for 30 years.

So, if you’re a 45-year-old smoker who started smoking in your teens, you are now in ‘the danger zone’.
This means you are at a high risk of developing any of the smoking-related diseases, which include heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer as well as many other cancers such as mouth cancer, gullet cancer and bladder cancer… the list goes on.

Your skin will age prematurely, you may become impotent, you may start losing your sight – all because of the years you’ve been smoking. So quit. It’s never too late!

Governments are addicted
The government earns £8 billion a year from tobacco duty alone and that doesn’t include the VAT on cigarettes. So, the government is collecting £130 million every week from smokers. More than 70% of the retail price of a pack of 20 cigarettes goes into the Treasury coffers, all from smoking coughers! Tobacco tax is one of the biggest earners for the Treasury, after VAT and income tax.

Of course there are huge costs incurred by the NHS in treating all those unhealthy smokers. Each year, smoking-related diseases cost the NHS £2.7 billion. True, it’s a lot but, nevertheless, smokers put in far
more than they take out.

Even allowing for the huge cost of treating smokers in the NHS, the government still comes out with a > profit of £5 billion every year. The government needs our smokers and so does every single taxpayer in the country. If tobacco tax disappeared, then income tax or VAT would have to be increased.

One of my patients who smokes actually boasted that he was ‘smoking for England!’ And, of course, I couldn’t deny his claim.

How to quit
It’s important to remember that no one can make you quit. Only you can do that and, of course, you’ll have to feel highly motivated to make your attempt successful.

Make a list of reasons why you must stop smoking. The financial aspect is important, but what about the family aspect? If you have children, there’s a good chance that you will already be doing things for them that involve hardship and sacrifice. The best sacrifice you can make for your kids is to quit smoking. Your children don’t want to lose their mum or their dad. Do you want them to lose their mum or dad? Quit for the kids!

If you don’t have kids, then quit for yourself, your partner, your family and your own future health. If you want to live to collect your pension and enjoy those leisurely days of retirement in good health, then you’d better quit now. Remember cigarettes kill 50% of smokers – prematurely.

The facts

  • There are 9.4 million smokers in Great Britain – that’s one in six of the population. Quite a change from the 1970s, when nearly half the adult population smoked.
  • Twenty-two per cent of adult men and 20% of adult women smoke.
  • Smoking is highest among 20-to 24-year-olds. 
  • Now 28% of men and 21% of women are ex-smokers – they’ve successfully quit for good!
  • A 20-cigarette-a-day smoker spends £2,000 a year on cigarettes.

If you’re a 50-year-old smoker, you’ve already spent £70,000 on cigarettes in your lifetime. Stop now and you could save £40,000 in the next 20 years. If you don’t stop, it’s unlikely you’ll live another 20 years. Quitting will add quality years to your life and thousands to your bank balance.

Chemical reaction
Each year, 114,000 smokers in the UK die from smoking-related diseases. That’s 2,200 deaths every single week, which is equivalent to a ‘Twin Towers’ disaster happening in the UK every 10 days. All this disease and death results from inhaling chemicals such as carbon monoxide (which is given off when anything burns), tars, arsenic, formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), cyanide, benzene, toluene and acrolein… plus over 4,000 more.

Help to stop you smoking

  • To find out about stop smoking services provided by the NHS, involving your local pharmacist, your GP practice and experienced smoking-cessation counsellors, go to or NHS Choices.
  • For more help on giving up try Dr Chris’ 10-point quit plan (right) or go to
  • The NHS Stop Smoking Helpline is a free service open seven days a week from 7am to 11pm. Call 0800 022 4332.

Stop-smoking treatments available on the NHS include:

  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine nasal spray
  • Nicotine inhalator
  • Nicotine microtabs or lozenges
  • Zyban tablets
  • Champix tablets.

Dr Chris Steele’s 10-Point Quit Plan

  1. Quit day Fix a date when you’re going to quit completely. No cutting down on the number you smoke or changing to a milder brand; just quit.
  2. Just for today Take it one day at a time and tell yourself, ‘Just for today, I won’t have a smoke!’ All you’re doing is coping with one day without cigarettes. Don’t think of the future without cigarettes as that’s a daunting prospect. Just cope with this day.
  3. Quit with a friend Quitting can be a lonely business. Non-smokers have no idea what you’re going through and smokers will tempt you with offered cigarettes. Ex-smokers can be a pain in the neck, saying it was a doddle for them, at a time when you may be desperately craving a cigarette. Quitting with a friend means you share the experience and you can help each other through the difficult times. Ring and email one another frequently. The Americans call this the ‘buddy system’ and it works.
  4. Cash. Not ash At the end of each day after you’ve quit, put the money you would have spent on cigarettes into a clear glass jar. If you were a 20-a-day smoker, that means you’ll be putting £5 to £6 away every day. Put a label on the front of the jar, ‘Cash. Not Ash’ and watch that money grow. At the end of the month go out and treat yourself with the money you’ve saved.
  5. Shift all cigarettes Last thing on the night before your quit day, get rid of all cigarettes, matches, lighters and ashtrays so that when you wake, there’s nothing to remind you of your old habit.
  6. Get help Nicotine replacement Products (NRT) plus Zyban and Champix will double your chances of success in quitting smoking. However, the biggest problem with NRT is that quitters don’t use enough of it or use it for long enough. Most stop-smoking treatments must be used for 10-12 weeks to achieve the best success rates.

    The nicotine skin patch provides a slow release of nicotine over 12 to 24 hours, but you may need an extra boost of nicotine if cravings get troublesome. I always recommend that my patients use the gum, nasal spray, inhalator or micro-tab or lozenge at times when the patch alone is not sufficient.

    Your stop-smoking adviser may not tell you about this, but after 30 years in the business of smoking cessation, I’ve found that using the nicotine patch plus an extra ‘emergency’ dose of nicotine from any of the other NRT products, is most effective.

    Bear in mind that the levels of nicotine from NRT products are way below those you were getting from cigarettes. And, of course, they don’t have the other 4,200 chemicals found in cigarette smoke.

    The Nicorette inhalator is particularly useful because it provides you with the same hand-to-mouth sensation you get from smoking a cigarette. It looks like a small cigarette holder which you inhale from, delivering a nicotine vapour to the back of the throat. When you smoke a cigarette you put your hand to your mouth 10 times per cigarette, so a 20-a-day smoker is putting his hand to his mouth 200 times a day. That’s a high- frequency activity or ‘habit’, plus you’re inhaling nicotine. If you really miss the habit of smoking (the actual hand-to-mouth action) then the inhalator may help.

    For heavy smokers the Nicorette nasal spray is particularly helpful, as it delivers an effective dose of nicotine into the bloodstream via the very thin membranes of the nose. Delivery and drug absorption is very effective, so although your first few doses may irritate your nose, stick with it. It’s extremely useful for heavy smokers needing to quit.

  7. Distract yourself When cravings for a cigarette creep up on you, you must distract yourself by keeping busy. It gives you a chance to do all those jobs you’ve been meaning to do. Maybe now could be the time to take up that hobby you’ve always fancied.
  8. Watch the weight Many smokers gain weight when they quit, so to counteract this I suggest you do a 30-minute non-stop walk every day, come rain or shine. This will stop the weight gain and obviously improve your fitness. Walk slowly at first and, as you get fitter, speed up. You’ll soon be walking further in that 30-minute slot and getting even fitter.
  9. No thanks. I don’t smoke Once you’ve quit, people will still offer you cigarettes. Don’t say, ‘No thanks, I’ve quit,’ because then they’ll talk about how you’re coping – ‘I couldn’t do that, I tried before, it was nightmare’ – and so on. The best response, like my own as a non-smoker, is, ‘No thanks, I don’t smoke’. Then change the topic of conversation to get away from discussing cigarettes and quitting.
  10. If you don’t succeed, quit and quit again! Most successful long-term quitters tried several times to quit and eventually they made it. So don’t get despondent. If you don’t succeed at your first attempt keep trying, because you will get there. It may just take a few attempts.


Photographs: neil cooper, getty images

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