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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Countdown to lights out
Smoking graphic

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

In 10 weeks, smoking in public places will be banned across Britain, when England steps into line with its UK neighbours. It's a move aimed at benefiting the non-smoking majority, but what will be the impact on England's 10 million smokers?

The last British refuge for smokers is about to disappear.

On 1 July, England follows the lead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and bans smoking in enclosed public places, making the UK ban complete.

The sight of nicotine addicts huddling outside pubs, restaurants and offices to get their nicotine fix is about to become an English spectacle.

The government says its chief aim is to reduce passive smoking. But a secondary consequence is that more people will take the opportunity to quit.

"We estimate that a complete smoking ban might reduce smoking rates by 1.7%, taking smoking from 24% now, down to 22%," says a Department of Health spokeswoman. "This will mean around 600,000 fewer smokers in the long term.

STUBBING OUT
NHS stop smoking services were introduced in 1999 in all primary care trusts
They provide nicotine replacement therapy, usually patches, gum or inhaler
In Scotland, the service has been pharmacy-based
Shock tactics such as touching a tumour have also worked
Varenicline (champix) is the first non-nicotine drug and is due to be assessed by NICE this year

"To help meet the increased demand, the Department of Health increased funding for local NHS stop smoking services by nearly 10% over the last two financial years."

Joy Henderson, 58, from Glasgow, quit her 40-a-day habit two weeks before the ban was introduced in Scotland in March 2006. She went to Starting Fresh, a pharmacy-based NHS project which gave her nicotine patches.

"But the greatest aid was having no-one around me smoking and so that acts as a subliminal cut." she says. "When you don't see that, you only have yourself to battle with."

The temptation that had existed in shops, restaurants and even other people's cars, was no longer there. Even her husband volunteered to never smoke in her sight.

Shock tactics

"I imagine a bubble around myself like a speech bubble and that's the air I can breathe and if anyone comes near me smoking and bursts into the bubble, it's such a acrid, horrendous and vile smell, I call it the invasion of the bubble snatchers."

COUNTDOWN TO LIGHTS OUT
Cigarette timeline
On 1 July, smoking in enclosed public places will be banned across the UK
Scotland and Wales already have such a ban; Northern Ireland will do soon; England's ban starts 1 July
The Magazine will be counting down the weeks with a series of articles about the impact of the ban on life in Britain
Joy was one of 45,000 Scots who used the NHS to try to quit in the year the ban came in, but only 18% of them were successful.

And like Joy, most of them quit in the three months before the ban, says social policy expert Linda Bauld, who believes the same trend of pre-emptive action is starting to happen in England.

"A national survey of stop-smoking services appears to show that we are starting to see a rise in demand now. And advisers on the ground are saying they are starting to see a few more clients."

Many smokers trying to quit put their trust in self-help books. Other more unconventional methods include shock tactics such as watching lung cancer surgery and even touching a tumour.

But whatever impact the England ban has, it is not likely to be as great as it was for its neighbours, says health psychologist Robert West, director of cancer studies at Cancer Research UK.

"The Irish ban was more of a change than ours because we already have quite a strong smoke-free culture," he says.

Ash tray in Wales
The Welsh ban is three weeks old
"I have a sense that having had bans in the other home countries, the English ban may not have the same psychological impact. It is also taking place in the summer so that it is relatively easy for smokers to use facilities outside of bars to smoke and bars are preparing for this. I would therefore expect the impact to be lower."

He thinks the Department of Health's prediction is optimistic and the number of people to give up is likely to be between 80,000 and 200,000. And the drop in consumption will be about 5-10% in cigarette sales.

The effect of the ban may not be all against smoking, says Gordon Tinline, business psychologist at Robertson Cooper, because while the majority will feel under pressure to quit, those that continue to smoke could harden their attitude.

"Those determined to go on smoking at all costs may dig in their heels and get pleasure from being defiant and saying 'You're not going to control me'".

Initial feelings will be a loss of control, he says, and a loss of the sedative effects of the nicotine.


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