Matt Rawlings charts the steady demise of a dying breed, smokers.
Easily found if you look hard enough, still: skulking under lean-tos at the rear of pubs and bars, huddled together in small groups outside office buildings the length and breadth of the UK or escaping into back gardens for a few solitary moments. Since legislation made England ‘smokefree’ in July 2007, the most anti-social of habits has become exactly that: no longer are smokers at the centre of parties and gatherings, at least not while smoking. Go outside to do that, please!
There is no question that smokers are gradually being ostracised from public places and in the UK today, it’s an unacceptable and unwanted habit which contradicts other health ideals we are more than willing to embrace. We run, workout, cycle – clad in the tightest, brightest, most unflattering of lycra outfits – and endeavour to eat healthily by cooking and baking at home rather than speed dialling local takeaways. We pass these principles and standards on to our children and emphasise the importance of living well.
Yet smoking remains part of our society, even if disguised and hidden, and kept out of the way. Smoking statistics disclosed by ash – action on smoking and health – state that there are approximately 10 million adults who smoke cigarettes in Britain, roughly a sixth of the total population. Almost a quarter of adult men in the UK are smokers and adult women aren’t far behind at 19%. In the 25-34 years age group, smoking prevalence is at its highest among men at 32% while it’s younger women who smoke more; 29% of 20-24 year olds do so.
While the numbers are still high – too high – they are coming down: 30 years ago 51% of men and 41% of women smoked cigarettes, which was nearly half of the adult population back in 1974. The drive to quit is clearly there, too. Two thirds of current smokers would like to stop smoking and significant numbers have – 22% of women and 27% of men are now ex-smokers.
But people still smoke. They spoke because it’s something they wanted to try as a teenager, influenced by friends and very often family too. Being raised in a home where one or both parents smoked increases the likelihood of starting to smoke. The NHS have stated that if a parent smokes, his or her children are three times more likely to take it up.
Culture also has an effect. The American Cancer Society asserts that in 2010, 30% of top-grossing movies rated G, PG and PG-13 (the three youngest age categories as classified by the Motion Picture Association of America) had tobacco scenes – and that the number of movies showing smokers increased again over the following two years. In essence, the most impressionable people are being exposed to tobacco, making the ban on television advertising for smoking virtually redundant; especially when the unregulated surfing waters of the internet are considered.
It’s easy, as 30, 40 and 50 year olds, to scoff at the notion of smoking as ‘cool’ (after all, we’ve usually lost any notion of knowing exactly what cool is, or caring what it is, or even being aware that saying ‘cool’ is, in itself, massively uncool). By and large, the 30-50 years age group is a demographic which is comfortable in its own skin, focused on career, family and health and generally trying to live properly. It definitely doesn’t feel cool to start smoking, but that’s not to say that there aren’t many people in the UK in that age group who still do smoke, and want to quit. Very often because it is something they started as a teenager and are still trying to shed. Smoking is a lifelong habit unless broken.
Not madness, but method
But it can be broken and in the UK there is almost unbending support from the NHS to quit smoking cigarettes for good. This October, we had the 28-day Stoptober challenge, a campaign fuelled by the statistic that if you can stop smoking for that period of time, you’re five times more likely to stop for good. Breaking what can seem like an insurmountable task – quitting for life – into smaller periods, in this case a month, feels more achievable. Get to a month without cigarettes and a big chunk of the hard work is done.
There is no magic wand but there are tried and trusted methods which are proven to work and in some cases, stopped people who have smoked for decades picking up cigarettes again. Turning to the NHS for assistance gives someone access to the Quit Kit, which is a range of items to help smokers quit, and the Stop Smoking Service, which provides trained advisers to support people, either on a one to one basis or in a group. A combination of face to face support and nicotine replacement products – patches, lozenges, gum – or medicines, such as Champix and Zyban, can be really effective.
Electronic cigarettes may also have a genuine role to play in helping smokers to quit, too. E-cigs and eliquid come in a range of wonderful (and weird) flavours and designs, and although research is ongoing, a survey by University College London earlier this year revealed promising results. ‘The survey found that people were around 60% more likely to succeed by using electronic cigarettes compared to gums, patches or by willpower,’ stated this blog by Phoenix eliquid. Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer and the UK government’s principal medical adviser, believes that electronic cigarettes have the potential to help smokers quit smoking but are not currently regulated. More information on the safety of e-cigarettes can be found here.
Make it ‘your’ challenge
Distraction plays a huge part; quitters need to fill the gaps in their life created by no longer smoking. That might mean drinking a glass of water instead of reaching for a cigarette, or going for a walk and getting some fresh air. Preparation is important. Quit Day should be carefully selected. Don’t pick a day that’s likely to be stressful, don’t try to quit if you have a night out planned. Choose a month that’s quieter, socially, so you’ll be away from tempting triggers such as being in a pub with a drink in your hand.
January is a traditional time to attempt quitting, with New Year’s resolutions and all, but perhaps there’s way too much expectation to achieve something hugely important in the weeks following a Christmas comedown. Turn that scenario on its head by marking out your own ideal day.
It won’t be an easy journey but there should be no issues concerning motivation for the smoker aiming to quit – the health benefits are potentially huge. Life-saving, in fact.