Today, there are many ways to combat smoking addiction, and behavioural support plus prescription medication through Stop Smoking Services remains the most effective way.
But every now and then a new technology emerges that’s capable of changing the landscape. And for smokers, the most recent of these developments has been the rapid rise of the e-cigarette.
Almost three million people are using e-cigarettes in Great Britain today, and many are doing so in an attempt to give up smoking. In fact, a recent study found that e-cigarettes could have helped an additional 18,000 smokers ditch the cigs for good in England in 2015.
So as some smokers embark on Stoptober – a whole month of people stopping smoking – we spoke to two ex-smokers that used both their local Stop Smoking Services and an e-cigarette in order to give up tobacco for good.
Vital support from Stop Smoking Services
Erika is 42 and works in London, and she had been smoking for 20 years before first making use of Stop Smoking Services at her place of work.
“It happened to be on a day when I was free and I went out of curiosity,” she explains.
“I’d been having a terrible cold and had problems with my circulation, so wanted to do it for health reasons.”
Through using the Stop Smoking Service with support from a qualified professional, and an e-cigarette, Erika hasn’t picked up a cigarette since the first day of her quit attempt in February 2016. The group sessions offered as part of the service also helped provide a motivation to stop, she says.
“I think it’s always easier to stop when in a group than on your own, as you get support from others and ask each other questions. Everyone encourages everyone else.”
But for those who don’t fancy the group sessions, one on one support is also available. Either way, research has shown that using Stop Smoking Services makes smokers around three times more likely to quit than going it alone.
Pritesh, 46 from London, had a similar experience.
“I’d definitely recommend Stop Smoking Services,” he says. “They’re there for support, guidance and reassurance. You’re receiving the support you need to get to the point where you’ll actually quit.”
Having smoked for over 30 years, and up to 20 a day, Pritesh was able to kick the habit using his children as a major source of motivation.
Of course, stopping smoking isn’t easy, and not every quit attempt is going to be successful. Pritesh had tried six times to give up in the past, but only managed to stop for six to eight weeks in his longest stint.
It wasn’t until he tried an e-cigarette alongside using the Stop Smoking Services that Pritesh was able to get off tobacco for good.
How do e-cigarettes help?
Different quit methods will work for different people, and that’s why it’s so important that the Stop Smoking Services provide individual plans for each person that walks through their doors.
For Erika and Pritesh, an e-cigarette proved to be the most effective.
Some quitters struggle to replace the activity of smoking. Fortunately for Erika, she found the use of the e-cigarette immediately took over from her regular routine.
“I had this habit of always holding something in my hand,” she says. “Sometimes I’d just be holding a regular cigarette whilst out and my friends would try and light it for me, but I’d tell them not to.
“That’s when I realised an e-cigarette might be the best replacement for me.”
For others, it’s the hit at the back of the throat that people crave when they give up smoking. This, and the many different flavours available, is what led Pritesh to switch his tobacco for an e-cigarette.
“I found there was no other tool that matched the feeling you get, and this was the closest I could get to an actual cigarette,” he says.
“I also found the different flavours intriguing. If you see a flavour that says ‘pear drop’ you’ll try that thinking of the sweets you used to eat.”
E-cigarettes work by producing a nicotine vapour that you breathe in much the same way as you would through a tobacco cigarette. But with e-cigarettes, the nicotine isn’t joined by the thousands of other chemicals that are contained in tobacco smoke, many of which cause cancer.
As nicotine is the substance that keeps people addicted to tobacco, an e-cigarette is able to satisfy the craving in a far safer way than smoking.
If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is to stop using tobacco products, and the sooner you quit, the better for your health. It’s never too late to stop.
Stopping smoking can also be much kinder to your wallet. On switching to e-cigarettes, Erika estimates that she’s saved around £100 a month, and Pritesh said they were far more cost-effective than smoking tobacco.
So, from the perspective of those using the devices day-to-day, we’ve heard plenty of success stories linked to e-cigarettes. But where does the evidence stand on their use? And what impact are they having on those who provide the support at Stop Smoking Services?
Do Stop Smoking Services support the use of e-cigarettes?
Stop Smoking Services are in place to do exactly what you might expect. As e-cigarettes have been shown to be 60 per cent more effective on their own than going cold turkey, it’s a no-brainer that some services have started to integrate them into their plans.
Both of the services used by Erika and Pritesh offered free e-cigarettes to people looking to quit. Dr Joanna Miler, who ran the service used by Erika, said that this decision was based on simply being able to offer another option for those looking to quit.
“The great thing about e-cigarettes is we can consider them another tool when we’re creating a tailored stopping plan for each individual person,” she says.
“For people who’ve tried other options before and not succeeded they can be really appealing, or those who have a strong behavioural link with the action of smoking. To break the habit, we often recommend people start on a particular level of nicotine and then reduce it over time.
The most important thing is to stop using tobacco, and offering e-cigarettes as part of a quit attempt can be a really helpful way to do so
– Dr Joanna Miler, Stop Smoking Service provider
“You can get e-cigarettes with zero nicotine in them, and sometimes these work to transition people away from tobacco too.”
Some Stop Smoking Service providers are slightly more reluctant to recommend e-cigarettes that haven’t been licensed as an approved medicine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), especially when there are other prescription medications available.
But guidance from the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) recommends support for people using an e-cigarette as part of a quit attempt.
The latest review of the evidence continues to suggest that e-cigarettes can help people to stop smoking.
“Smoking tobacco is the most harmful way that people can get their nicotine fix,” says Miler. “If people have tried other medications that haven’t worked for them and they’re still smoking, we would definitely recommend people switch to e-cigarettes.
“The most important thing is to stop using tobacco, and offering e-cigarettes as part of a quit attempt can be a really helpful way to do so. Nothing is 100% effective, but we’ve supported lots of people to stop smoking using an e-cigarette at our local Stop Smoking Service.”
The vital help, advice and medications offered by Stop Smoking Services makes them the most effective way to give up smoking. The support offered in centres across the country has helped thousands to reduce their risk of developing at least 14 different types of cancer, with plenty of other health benefits too for those that succeed.
For Erika, there was a real sense of achievement in triumphing over tobacco.
“I’m happy and felt like I’d won something,” she says. “I’m very pleased with myself that I stuck with it rather than going back to smoking.”
So why not sign up to Stoptober this month and give quitting a go? Check out their website, and find the stopping method that works best for you.
Carl Alexander is a health information officer at Cancer Research UK