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Study: Health benefits of smoking ban could be lost, if the NHS is not better prepared

NHS services to help smokers quit could struggle to cope with an increase in the number of people wanting to give up before the introduction of a smoking ban next summer, an analysis of the experience in Scotland has revealed.

In the three months before the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in Scotland (on 26 March 2006), the number of people wanting to quit before the ban almost doubled in some parts of the country.

One NHS stop smoking service treated 360 clients in the period January to March 2005, compared with 690 in the three months leading up to the ban (January to March 2006). Scotland’s largest service saw client numbers rise from 5,209 smokers in January to March 2005, to 7,476 in the period January to March 2006.

However, Scottish services reported that the number of people accessing services dropped fairly quickly once the ban was in place.

With the government suggesting that preparations in the rest of the UK should be in place by the time the ban is introduced, many of the health gains of supporting more smokers could be lost, warns Dr Linda Bauld, a tobacco researcher from the University of Bath.

“Smoking cessation services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland need to be prepared for an upsurge in clients well in advance of smoke-free legislation being implemented,” said Dr Bauld, who will outline her findings to the South West Tobacco Action Network conference in Exeter on Tuesday 5 December 2006.

“At the moment the message from government seems to be that preparations should be in place for the ban. In fact, it is the three to four months beforehand that are most important.

“Some stop smoking services in England, for example, have a very limited number of staff and may struggle to cope with an increased number of clients. It is important that they are adequately prepared and resourced so that the health gains of supporting more smokers to quit are not lost.”

Dr Bauld, from the University's Department of Social & Policy Sciences, analysed data from NHS stop smoking services in Scotland before and after Scotland’s ban on smoking in public places that came into effect on 26 March 2006.

She found that the number of smokers who set a quit date with the support of NHS stop smoking services increased significantly in the period January to March 2006 when compared with the same period the year before.

In addition to treating more clients in the community, services also reported an increase in requests from businesses and other employers to offer services to help their staff to stop smoking in advance of the ban.

However, this increase in demand was not sustained following the implementation of the ban.

Scottish services reported that the number of people accessing services dropped fairly quickly once the ban was in place.

Numbers of clients in the period April-June 2006 were higher than the previous year in most areas, but not as high as in the run-up to the ban.

A copy of the full presentation is available on the Smoking Cessation Service Research Network site at

Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
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