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Don't quit while you're ahead

Nursing Times should be applauded for its brilliant ‘No Butts’ campaign, which ended a few weeks ago. It did my heart good to read the stories of nurses who were kicking the habit, and it will do their hearts even more good.

VOL: 97, ISSUE: 13, PAGE NO: 33

Alex Mathieson RGN RNMH

 

The campaign reminded me of the crucial role nurses play in helping people to stop smoking. If they did nothing else, they would still be worth their salt in my book.

The grim statistics on smoking are well known and don’t need to be re-run here - even if Imperial Tobacco’s chief executive Gareth Davis insists, as he did to the Commons’ health select committee last year, that the evidence to link smoking to lung cancer is ‘inconclusive’.

Mr Davis and his cronies aside, we all know the damage smoking does to health. Yet nurses who have tried to help patients quit also know the potential pitfalls they face. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that creates physical and psychological dependence. People who try to stop smoking are liable to run a variable course, with lapses almost inevitable.

Research shows that in spite of their knowledge of the dangers of smoking, relatively few health professionals advise patients on how to stop. The main reason for this is a perception that success rates are low (Action on Smoking and Health, Scotland/Health Education Board for Scotland, 2000). Helping a patient through a smoking cessation programme takes up scarce resources of energy and skill. Why waste them on something that is not likely to succeed?

But perhaps nurses should not focus so much on success, concentrating instead on reaching patients who want to stop. Intensive smoking cessation programmes have high success rates but reach relatively few people. Nurses, on the other hand, have the potential to reach many. If smoking cessation techniques could be incorporated into daily routines, the potential benefits to many smokers, as opposed to a few, are obvious.

Smoking cessation interventions by nurses can and do work for thousands of people every year. That’s why the most effective methods of helping patients to stop smoking - brief advice augmented by nicotine replacement therapy, which is now more widely available - should be identified and used.

It has been estimated that if just four or five of the patients of every GP in Scotland were helped to stop smoking every year, 17,000 people would be freed from the dangers of tobacco annually (ASH Scotland/HEBS, 2000). Imagine the numbers if that was applied throughout the UK. And that’s why nurses must keep trying.

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