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Cigarettes, when used according to the manufacturers’ instructions, kill half the people using them. It’s shocking when you think about it. Additionally, for every person who dies too soon from a smoking-related disease, another twenty suffer many years of disability and disease caused by smoking.   

Some healthcare interventions focus on the most frightening aspects of smoking, in the hope that it will scare people into quitting, but we know from talking to those who smoke that scare tactics may actually stop them listening. 

In our Stop Smoking Service in Leicester, we frame our call to action in terms of potential gains. Smokers already feel like they’re losing the best friend they ever had, so there has to be a goal more important that encourages them to take that giant step.

One of our ways is to share inspiring success stories, and I’ll describe two here (names have been changed).

Arthur had been told that if he didn’t stop smoking, he would lose his legs. Suffering from damaged vascular function, he made a reluctant appointment with a Stop advisor, and was fearful about both his state of health and his gloomy options. Within 3 weeks he told his advisor, with much excitement, that walking across his bedroom in bare feet, he could feel the texture of the carpet for the first time in years. His circulation had already improved, and continued to get stronger with every smokefree week thereafter.

The advisor shared this story at a team meeting, and we all reflected on how much more lively and, well, sparkly, people look after they’ve passed the 4-week stage of stopping smoking. 

The second story is Kerry’s; she arrived at the Stop clinic with her family, in a terrible state of agitation. She had recently suffered from a collapsed lung, and had been told that if she didn’t stop smoking she could die. She had tried to go cold turkey, not knowing she could get support from the NHS Stop Smoking Service. She, her husband, and her children were in tears as she paced angrily. The advisor realised Kerry was in a state of acute nicotine withdrawal, and gave her a fast-acting nicotine mouth strip. Within seconds she was calmer and able to talk productively about what needed to happen next. She went on to stop successfully, and looked radiant by the end of her treatment.

People who smoke do need to know the facts about how the tar and carbon monoxide in the smoke will damage their health, but healthcare professionals also need to appreciate the sense of fear and loss that comes with stopping. Reframing the message by describing the positive gains and the promise of more years of disease-free life can tip a person from resistance into action, despair into proud achievement.

The Leicester Stop Smoking Service was the first in the country to go e-cigarette friendly, and as well as helping people stop smoking with licensed products and behavioural support, the service is positive about the potential for nicotine vaporisers (e-cigarettes) to help people stop smoking and stay stopped.