Some interesting smoking facts as compiled by the Royal College of Physicians in 2008. These conclusions form the basis of their recent report entitled “Ending tobacco smoking in Britain: Radical strategies for prevention and harm reduction in nicotine addiction”. The report takes a pragmatic look at tobacco smoking and essentially calls for harm reduction to become a more important plank of health policy.
The most recent figures suggest that about 22% of adults, or about 10 million people in the UK, are smokers.
Half of all smokers die as a result of a disease caused by their smoking, typically losing 10 years of life.
Smoking currently kills about 87,000 people every year in England, and 104,000 in the UK.
Smoking causes more death and disability in the UK, contributes more to social inequalities in health, and places more of a burden on the NHS than any other known avoidable factor.
Most smokers start smoking in childhood or young adulthood; once addicted, most will want to quit smoking but succeeding is extremely difficult.
Quitting smoking generates health benefits immediately and does more to improve individual health than any other lifestyle measure.
Preventing children and young people from starting to smoke is especially difficult while smoking appears to be a normal adult behavior; international evidence shows that the best way to reduce the uptake of smoking by children is to reduce the prevalence of smoking among adults.
Although smokers are addicted to the nicotine in tobacco smoke, nicotine itself is not particularly harmful. It is the other chemicals and particles in tobacco smoke that are responsible for the great majority of the lung cancer and other diseases caused by smoking.
While quitting smoking and all nicotine use is the healthiest option for any smoker, switching to an alternative source of nicotine that does not involve inhaling smoke is the next best option.
Using smoke-free nicotine products not only greatly reduces the risk to smokers themselves, it would also prevent exposure of their families, particularly children, to second hand smoke and to smoking role models.
The safest form of nicotine is medicinal or ‘pure’ nicotine, like that in nicotine replacement therapy products (NRT) such as skin patches and chewing gum. However, few smokers find NRT to be satisfying, as it delivers lower doses of nicotine more slowly than cigarettes. It is also expensive compared to cigarettes.
New products, that mimic the nicotine delivery of cigarettes but do not involve exposure to other toxic chemicals are therefore urgently needed, to give smokers a viable alternative to smoking. Achieving this, and making existing and new safer nicotine products attractive to smokers will require a radical overhaul to the regulations that currently apply to nicotine products. The report recommends that new, more effective, affordable and acceptable forms of NRT are needed to help smokers quit and provide an alternative to smoking for those not able to give up altogether. It should be made cheaper and more widely available, not just in pharmacies, and more heavily promoted and advertised, not just as an aid to giving up, but as a long-term replacement.
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- Combination tobacco product use leads to stronger addiction
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