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Smoking misconceptions

UK smokers are reluctant to use NRT because they believe that nicotine is a cancer-causing agent

Smokers in the UK do not understand the role nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) plays in helping them kick the habit, according to research.

Data presented at the UK National Smoking Cessation Conference revealed that many smokers do not realise that nicotine is the addictive substance that makes them crave cigarettes while it is the other chemicals that cause lung cancer and other diseases.

Many smokers have shied away from using NRT with 71 per cent of smokers in the UK wrongly believing that nicotine causes lung cancer, according to research based on GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Perceived Safety of Nicotine data. Some 62 per cent wrongly think that nicotine causes heart attacks.

Over two-thirds of smokers surveyed for GSK's report said that nicotine in smoking cessation products is as harmful as smoking. Researchers have voiced concerns that just 14 per cent of this group planned to use NRT when they next try to give up smoking. However, 38 per cent of smokers who said that nicotine is less harmful than cigarettes plan to use NRT.

Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges can double a smoker's chances of quitting, yet just 40 per cent of smokers have used NRT to give up. Misconceptions about nicotine are more prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups, according to researchers who believe this is a cause for concern as there are higher numbers of smokers in this social group.

Community pharmacists believe that they help deliver on the government's health agenda, as part of the new pharmacy contract, by playing a key role in explaining to patients what nicotine does and how NRT can help them overcome cravings without the risks associated with smoking.

ìPharmacists should explain to smokers that when they light up, it is the nicotine that gives them the hit and the rest of the smoke that can cause cancer. It is vital that customers are educated about the comparative safety of NRT versus continuing smoking and NRT's proven effectiveness in helping people to quit successfully,î said Graham Phillips, a pharmacist from Wheathampstead.

Counselling patients on how to quit successfully and how to use NRT for the full 8 to 12-week course could: help increase smokers' chances of quitting by up to four times; position pharmacists as a key public health resource; earn pharmacy contract remuneration for enhanced services; and increase revenue from repeat NRT sales.

2nd September 2008

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