Tuesday, June 9, 1998 Published at 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Health: Latest News
Smokers 'should get help on NHS'
Smoking aids can double the chances of quitting
Nicotine patches and gum should be made available on the NHS to help people give up smoking, according to healthcare experts.
A new report by a panel of scientists and doctors claims Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) says smokers are twice as likely to give up with patches and gum than through willpower alone.
The team also rubbished "myths" that NRT was dangerous, encouraged a new addiction or was more expensive than smoking.
Biggest cause of death
Not only was smoking the most important cause of ill-health and premature death in the UK, the report said. It also led to health inequalities as poor people were the most likely to smoke and the least likely to quit.
"We are asking the government, those responsible for public policy, healthcare professionals and smokers alike to recognise once and for all that nicotine replacement therapy is not only safe, but is also the most effective aid to smoking cessation currently available.
"Its use should not only be endorsed, but also encouraged by everyone who has an interest in seeing a reduction in the morbidity and mortality rates of all smokers."
Panel member Dr Martin Jarvis, a principle scientist in the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Health Behaviour Unit, said the nicotine dose from NRT reduced craving, but was much lower than the dose from cigarettes.
There was no evidence NRT was attractive to non-smokers or led to new cases of nicotine dependence.
The report recommended that:
Kevin Barron, chairman of the Labour backbench health committee and of the all-party Parliamentary Smoking and Health Group, said: "The NHS should run some pilot programmes, using either Health Improvement Programmes or Health Action Zones, to measure, through independent evaluation, the health and cost benefit of such strategies."
The Department of Health's Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health recently supported and urged greater use of NRT as an aid to smoking cessation.
The report was welcomed by the British Medical Association, which has recently lobbied the government on NRT, but it says it should not just be available on prescription.
A spokesman said: "We think it should be much more readily available because it is a very effective means of giving up smoking. Our recent submission highlights the need in particular to make it available to specific groups such as expectant mothers.