Huge drop in smokers using services to quit sparks calls for new NHS strategy
A steep decline in the amount of people using services available to stop smoking has led to calls for the Department of Health to review its strategy.
Figures released yesterday reveal that almost 2,700 fewer people availed of NHS-backed services to help quit the 'dreaded weed' between 2016-17 than in the previous year. That represents a drop of 12%.
Smoking cessation services are those provided by GPs, pharmacists, nurses or specialists trained specifically in helping people kick the nicotine habit.
Methods used to quit smoking include the use of nicotine replacement therapy, nicotine gum and laser treatment. They can be hospital or clinic based and are sometimes centred on one-to-one or group support over a five or six week period.
Neil Johnston, Public Affairs Adviser for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS), said: "Much has been achieved, but sadly the numbers of smokers in Northern Ireland remains stubbornly high - particularly in less well-off areas.
"Almost one in four of the population here smokes and the rate has barely fallen in recent years."
Of the nearly 19,000 people who set a date to quit in the last 12 months, a third (32%) were from the most deprived section of the community, while 24% came from the second most deprived.
One in 10 were from the most well-off sector. Those attempting to stop smoking are advised to set a target date to quit and are deemed to have been successful if they don't smoke for two weeks after that point.
In the 12 months to April, 18,637 people set a quit date through smoking cessation services - down 2,648 (12%) on the previous year.
This has continued the trend of declining numbers in the last five years from a high of nearly 40,000 in 2011-2012. The latest figures reveal that nearly 11,000 people reported that they had stopped smoking during a follow-up consultation after a month.
The success rate for men stood at 60% and at 57% for women.
In the last year, 235 young people aged between 11-17 availed of smoking cessation services and set a date to begin kicking the habit. After a month, 40% of them said they had successfully stopped smoking, 37% said they were still smoking and 23% could not be contacted.
Mr Johnston added: "The fall-off in use of cessation services is almost entirely in the 18-34 age bracket and it is probably these people who have decided to try e-cigarettes."
He said there was no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes were an effective way to quit smoking and little is known about the long-term health effects.
He added: "NICHS would recommend that e-cigs are used only as a short-term measure.
"One area of success has been with school children - the numbers smoking have fallen markedly. We should build on that success and we would urge the Department to increase the resources spent combating smoking amongst schoolchildren.
"We know that over 80% of smokers start smoking in their teens and we know there is a particular problem in disadvantaged areas so perhaps shifting resources from cessation services towards increasing targeted prevention activity in schools and disadvantaged communities would be more effective?"
Drop in the number of people who set a date to quit smoking through NHS cessation services