We’ve known for a while that smoking’s been blowing out of fashion. Now, the stats and figures are catching up. In Ireland many people are giving up and it is the same story across the Irish Sea.
There are now twice as many ex-smokers than current smokers in England, according to new data from Public Health England, with recorded smoking rates at their lowest ever – below 17%. In Scotland, rates are heading in the same direction, falling from 31% in 1999 to 20% in 2014. Figures released by the European Commission last year found Ireland had among the fastest-falling smoking rates (dropping from 29% to 21% from 2012-2014), while 19% of the population in Wales are currently smokers, and in Northern Ireland, 18%.
The numbers make for promising reading – and go to show: yes, quitting smoking is very difficult, but it’s certainly possible. And if you’re thinking about stubbing out for good, October is the ideal time to do it.
Now in its fifth year, Stoptober will once again aim to inspire thousands of smokers to quit, with a host of handy tools and tactics to support them through it – plus a string of celebrity ambassadors including Phil Tufnell, Natasha Hamilton and Craig Revel Horwood, who’ve pledged to join in with the 28-day quitting challenge from October 1.
Last year, 500,000 people managed to successfully complete this mission, with the highest success rates since the campaign began back in 2012.
Keen to add to this number yourself this year?
The 28-day pledge
Lavina Ramlington, who works for NHS stop smoking services, has seen first-hand how Stoptober can really bolster people’s motivation when quitting. “At this time of year, people have come back from holidays and are getting stuck back into work etc; I think it’s a great time to try and quit,” she says. “And as the campaign slogan says: if you can stay smoke-free for 28 days, then you’re more likely to stay smoke-free for life.”
Five times more likely, in fact, according to research, as Dr Mike Knapton, British Heart Foundation associate medical director, highlights.
There’s also a real positivity in knowing you’re not alone in your efforts, adds Ramlington, and that thousands of other people who have taken the 28-day pledge too, are going through the challenge at the same time. “It is like there’s something in the air [during Stoptober], and there’s lots of chat going on on Facebook and things like that, which encourages people to keep going,” she notes.
You’re not alone
While there are people who’ve successfully quit smoking entirely by their own means, whether through going cold turkey or self-managing the process with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, statistics show you’re far more likely to kick the habit for good by roping in some support – and there’s lots out there.
“There is more help and support available now than ever before. The introduction of standardised packs removes the glamorous branding and brings health warnings to the fore, and e-cigarettes, which many smokers find helpful for quitting, are now regulated to assure their safety and quality,” says Dr Gina Radford, deputy chief medical officer. “We also have a range of free support that can go direct to your phone, laptop or tablet via the Stoptober app, a daily email service or Facebook Messenger bot. The new Stoptober website also has advice and information on stop smoking services and quitting aids.”
As Ramlington explains, “everyone is different”, and the NHS services are designed to offer a tailored approach so you can find the solution that’s going to work for you, including one-on-one sessions, advice about the best types of NRT for you, as well as guidance on changing behaviour patterns and habits in order to cope with cravings and avoid ‘triggers’.
“There are lots of options available,” she says, noting that it “can be a case of trial and error to find what works best for each person”, but the programme aims to guide people through the process.
Know your habits
“There are three main categories of smokers,” says Ramlington. “Light smokers, who probably smoke one to five cigarettes a day, then smokers who’ll have about five to 15 a day, and you’ve got the heavy smoker who has 20-plus a day. These are all followed by triggers, things like boredom, social triggers, stress and anxiety.” Lighting up could be part of somebody’s celebration rituals too – similar to how we have a drink to toast good occasions and events.
Ramlington explains that advisors will be able to suggest the most appropriate NRT products according to an individual’s addiction levels and smoking patterns, help guide them through the process of weaning off nicotine in the longer term, and offer advice around staying on track and coping with triggers.
It’s vital, she says, that people have strategies in place for when triggers arise – which they inevitably will. After all, if somebody usually reaches for a cigarette when they’re stressed, they can’t just ‘switch off’ feeling stressed. But being prepared, and having a plan of action in place, will make the world of difference.
“We’ll usually suggest people take up new interests, so they’ve got other healthy options to counteract the boredom, such as going to the gym, doing crosswords or doing the gardening – anything where they can develop a new passion or hobby to focus on, and help them in overcoming the ingrained habit of smoking.”
Quitters can also set up motivational rewards for themselves – such as saving the money they’d normally spend on cigarettes and having a ‘goal’ treat to spend it on.
Proof in the puff-free pudding
Ramlington notes that things like having their blood carbon-monoxide levels recorded can be a massive motivator too. “Most people are quite surprised to see they have carbon monoxide readings coming out quite high, depending on how many cigarettes they’re smoking a day – and then how quickly they drop!
“People will start to find they can breathe easier too – that can be surprising, and they find they can work out for longer at the gym, and sleep better at night without all those noises coming from their throat.”