Poorer smokers missing out

Last updated at 17:19 24 June 2004

British chest specialists have launched a counter-attack over comments by Health Secretary John Reid.

In a speech earlier this month the Health Secretary said smoking was one of the few pleasures left for the working classes.

He told a meeting of health and patient groups: "I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but that it is an obsession of the learned middle class."

But Professor John Britton, a lung specialist and a member of the BTS tobacco committee, has described Mr Reid's comments as both patronising and misleading.

He says people from working-class backgrounds do want to give up smoking but they are not getting access to the health services they need.

"They carry on smoking, not out of choice, but because they are addicted to nicotine." he said.

He told a meeting of the British Thoracic Society in Manchester that "The evidence shows that smokers in the lowest socio-economic groups want to give up even more than smokers from more affluent groups.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that more than three-quarters of people who had never worked or were unemployed said they wanted to quit smoking.

But Professor Britton said these people were less likely to receive nicotine replacement therapy than those in higher socio-economic classes.

In 2002, only 10% of those who had never worked or were unemployed had NRT compared with more than 13% of those in managerial or professional classes.

But those from the lowest social groups were said to be the people most likely to seek help and advice to stop smoking.

Prof Britton said health workers needed to do much more in advising and supporting smokers who wanted to quit, including working-class smokers.

Prof Britton said they needed to help all smokers who wanted to give up by improving smoking cessation services, particularly in the UK's most deprived areas.

"Increasing access to targeted stop smoking initiatives and greater availability of nicotine replacement therapy will help people kick the habit for good.

"We should also pay more attention to those 30% of smokers who are unable to stop smoking by making safer nicotine products available to them in direct competition with cigarettes.

"There is a need to be more creative and flexible in our approach to tackling tobacco, which is still the largest single cause of preventable death and disease in Europe," he added.

Health secretary John Reid caused a storm of protest when he said that the middle classes were "obsessed" with the smoking issue, which he added was not one of the worst problems facing poorer people.

"What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."