Heavy smokers 'need more help to quit'

Last updated at 08:36 05 October 2007

More nicotine products should be made available for those smokers who can't quit, doctors say.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said the Government had to face up to the issue of nicotine addiction and help save lives by implementing wide-ranging reforms.

Professor John Britton, chairman of the RCP Tobacco Advisory Group, called for a new "harm reduction" approach, saying it was the hundreds of toxic chemicals in cigarettes that caused death, rather than nicotine.

Speaking on the launch of a RCP report entitled Harm Reduction In Nicotine Addiction: Helping People Who Can't Quit, he said the millions of smokers who could not give up needed nicotine products that could satisfy their craving without killing them.

He said: "At the moment, most of our efforts on smoking are aimed at preventing people from starting to smoke and helping smokers to quit completely.

"The best thing that a smoker can do for his or her health is to quit all smoking and nicotine use completely.

"However, there are millions of smokers who can't quit, or else who are unlikely to quit, and those people need nicotine products that can satisfy their addiction without killing them."

The RCP believes that the regulatory systems that govern nicotine products in most countries, including the UK, actively discourage the development, marketing and promotion of significantly safer nicotine products to smokers.

But it added that by contrast cigarettes are relatively unregulated.

The RCP wants to see the whole nicotine market reformed by a new regulatory framework that favours harm reduction, which would include:

• Providing smokers with safer sources of nicotine and effective cigarette substitutes;

• Encouraging the development of innovative, more effective and user-friendly medicinal nicotine substitutes for cigarettes;

• Changing nicotine product regulation to make it easier to produce and market medicinal nicotine products;

• Creating a nicotine regulatory authority to take control of all aspects of regulation of all nicotine products and reverse the advantage cigarettes have in the marketplace;

RCP president Professor Ian Gilmore added: "This radical and stimulating report demands Government faces up to the issue of nicotine addiction by implementing far-reaching reforms to save the lives of millions of smokers."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, welcomed the report.

She said it highlighted the "stark fact" that cigarettes are freely available and accessible, while medicinal nicotine products which by comparison carry minimal risk are heavily regulated and much less readily available.

She added: "We also strongly support a fully-independent Tobacco and Nicotine Regulatory Authority to govern all tobacco and nicotine products.

"If nicotine can be provided in a form and at a price that offers a far more attractive and accessible alternative to smoking than at present, many lives could be saved."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The Government's priority remains focused on reducing rates of smoking, especially amongst high prevalence groups.

"This is important given that seven out of 10 smokers say they want to stop smoking.

"With the support of the NHS, smokers greatly increase their chances of stopping smoking for good.

"Reducing the harm associated with smoking is an area we need to continue to look at closely, and we will consider the evidence and recommendations within today's report in detail."

On October 1, the age of sale of tobacco products was increased from 16 to 18 years, and on October 1 next year all tobacco products produced for the UK market must carry hard-hitting picture warnings.

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