More needs to be done to help vulnerable people quit this Stoptober

Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

Julie Bass, Chief Executive at Turning Point, discusses why more help is needed to support smokers in vulnerable sectors of society.

Stoptober is part of a national drive to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and encourage people to give up the habit. Quitting smoking positively impacts health, wellbeing, and finances in both the short and long term.

Beyond the personal benefits, smoking cessation also relieves substantial pressures on the NHS as well as the wider economy and society. In England, there were estimated to be more than half a million hospital admissions attributable to smoking in 2018 to 2019. The benefits of quitting are further magnified by the pandemic; Public Health England cited that smokers are at greater risk of contracting respiratory infection and of more severe symptoms once contracted.

In recent decades, substantial progress has been made towards reducing the burden of ill-health caused by tobacco smoking. Despite this, there were 74,000 deaths attributable to smoking in 2019, a figure which represents 15% of all deaths across the UK. The burden of smoking-related illness is felt unevenly across society, with smoking being a leading cause of health inequality. People from more disadvantaged socio-economic groups are most likely to be smokers. So, although smoking prevalence has experienced an overall decline, it has become increasingly concentrated among particular communities and groups:

• Employment: People who are unemployed are almost twice as likely to smoke as those in work. Around one in four people in routine and manual occupations were smokers, compared with one in 10 people in managerial and professional occupations.

• Education: It has been shown that people with no qualifications are four times as likely to smoke compared to people with a degree.

• Housing: A higher proportion of people who live in rented accommodation smoke compared to the proportion of people who have a mortgage or own their property outright.

• Deprivation: People in more deprived areas are more likely to be smokers and are less likely to quit.

From 1st October, the government will officially launch The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) with the aim of tackling health inequalities across the country. The new government body will attempt to confront the leading preventable risk factors for ill health, including obesity caused by unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption. It will work to drive forward action on health disparities, including improving access to health services across the country, and coordinate with government departments to address the wider drivers of good health, from employment to housing, education and the environment.

This marks a positive step towards addressing rising health inequalities within England and Wales. However, this new government body needs to ensure it is successful in supporting the more vulnerable groups in society via effective, locally sensitive, and targeted policy and funding. In England, two thirds of smokers want to quit. Research also demonstrates that people who use drugs and alcohol are equally as motivated as the general population to quit smoking.

When considering such willingness for change, what are the main barriers preventing people from quitting? Currently, around half of all smokers in England attempt to quit without any kind of support, relying only on willpower, despite this being the least effective method. Getting support has been proven to dramatically increase the chances of people quitting successfully.

One common misconception surrounding treatment strategies is that e-cigs are as harmful as smoking. However, whilst vaping is not risk free it is far less harmful than smoking. Using nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) or e-cigarettes makes it one and a half times more likely that a person will succeed in quitting smoking.

In addition to professional support, services need to be responsive to local needs and targeted to provide the right support to the people who need it most. For example, people with mental health problems may need higher doses of NRT and more intensive support. At Turning Point, we have attempted to provide better targeted support by integrating healthy lifestyle coaching within our substance misuse services in areas such as Oldham and Hammersmith and Fulham, something we are keen to expand.

Read the full blog post here.

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This content was created by Turning Point.

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