June 24, 2008

Shops May Hide Cigarettes to Help Smokers Kick Habit

By Stuart Arnold

HEALTH experts from across the country will meet in the North- East today to debate how to help smokers quit the habit.

The event coincides with the publication of a three-month consultation on a new National Tobacco Strategy, by the Department of Health.

It could see:

Cigarettes moved out of sight in shops and supermarkets;

A ban on tobacco vending machines and the sale of packs of ten cigarettes;

Increased access to clean medicinal nicotine for heavily addicted smokers.

Today, the first of four events being hosted by campaign group Fresh, SmokeFree North-East, will highlight the importance of ensuring that smokers get the practical support and advice they need from NHS advisors in the region.

Experts will also discuss whether more effective nicotine replacement therapy products should be made more widely available for heavily addicted smokers who want to quit, but can't.

Speakers at the event, being held in Newcastle, include Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, University College London;

and Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

The North-East's Local NHS Stop Smoking Services already offer some of the best help in the UK, but many smokers fail to take advantage of the free service, despite the fact that it gives them a four times better chance of quitting.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: "Smoking remains the region's biggest killer, with 5,500 people dying from smoking- related illnesses every year - that's more than alcohol, HIV, drugs, suicides and accidents put together.

"And half of the 14,500 11 to 15-year-olds who smoke in the North- East will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases if they are unable to quit.

"With the highest smoking rate in England - that is over half a million people in the region still smoking - the NorthEast has the most to gain from a long-term, well-funded and evidence-based tobacco strategy."

A spokeswoman for Fresh added: "Fresh strongly supports the measures that are being consulted upon as part of the National Tobacco Strategy.

"The ultimate goal of all of this is to make smoking history for our children."

Today's event will be followed by an event on Wednesday at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield, where speakers will look at evidence linking youth smoking to promotion and positioning of tobacco.

In addition, a draft North of England action plan on cigarette smuggling is expected to be unveiled.

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