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When it comes to smoking the Aussies are not a pack of flaming galahs

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I am glad that I never took up smoking as a youngster. As No Smoking Day celebrates its 30th year this Wednesday (13 March 2013), I’ve got to thinking about the people in my life who do smoke — and how difficult they have found it to kick the habit. Some of them have been successful — my grandfather, for instance, decided one morning to quit and hasn’t touched a cigarette since — but many have tried and failed on countless occasions. I worry for their health. As, I’m sure, do they.

In Australia, where most members of my family live, smoking seems to be fairly unpopular. It’s expensive to be a smoker there, as it is in many countries where tobacco products are heavily taxed; but that doesn’t appear to deter the average smoker (although those who do quit no doubt notice the difference to their bank balances).

Down Under, politicians have taken quite drastic steps to make smoking less attractive, particularly to youths. From December last year all tobacco products sold in Australia must be in plain, drab dark brown packaging, adorned with rather disturbing images (it’s difficult to shock me but these pics are pretty nasty), and with trade names in a uniformly small font. (Incidentally, the drab dark brown packaging was originally described as olive green — until the Australian Olive Association kicked up a stink.)

The tobacco industry did its best to derail the Australian government’s plans and these efforts went as far as the high court. In August 2012 — some two years after the plans were set in motion — the Australian high court ruled in favour of the government.

And just last month the New Zealand government announced its intention to follow suit. The tobacco industry will surely declare war on the proposals as soon as they are put before parliament.

Momentum is clearly building, and the papers last week reported that Westminster would this year move to enshrine plain packaging of tobacco products in UK law. This is all timely ahead of No Smoking Day this week. According to the campaign, more than 750,000 people across the UK attempt to quit on the day and another 1.5 million are inspired to seek out information to help them quit in future.

The British Heart Foundation, which is the brains behind the annual campaign, says that some 10 million UK adults smoke and around two thirds of these people say they want to give up.

So what can you tell people to help them quit? 

Boots UK pharmacist Angela Chalmers gives the following tips:

  • Before you start to quit, or cut down to quit, think about the steps you can take to help you stay on track. If alcohol triggers your craving for a cigarette, why not try to cut down on that too or, if it’s peer pressure from other smokers, try to avoid situations where friends or colleagues are smoking in a group
  • Some smokers worry about an increase in appetite after they have kicked their habit so, again, look at how you can shake up your routine so you don’t respond to the cravings. Eat little and often to maintain your blood sugar levels and keep healthy snacks close at hand — like fruit, nuts and seeds
  • Remember that willpower goes a long way, but don’t think you need to go it alone. You are actually much more likely to quit with support. Products containing nicotine can help to take the edge off the physical effects of tobacco withdrawal so may help you manage your cravings. It’s also worth getting the support of your family and friends — let them know your ambition to quit smoking so that they can help you stay on track

Thanks Angela!

Pharmacists can also direct smokers online to www.WeQuit.co.uk and encourage them to call the No Smoking Day helpline on 0800 434 6677.

I might not see patients in my line of work but, this No Smoking Day, I’ll definitely be taking the time to remind my smoker friends — those living in the UK — of the help that is available from their local pharmacy.

Tweet this blog #NoSmokingDay

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