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Smokers warned: ‘Cutting back can still damage your health’

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by Cancer Research UK | News

9 October 2002

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Cancer Research UK is warning that smokers’ efforts to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke may cause them to become complacent about quitting altogether.

Tobacco control policies, such as tax increases on cigarettes and restrictions on where people can smoke have been successful in encouraging people to quit or cut back the number of cigarettes they smoke each day.

According to tobacco control experts at Cancer Research UK, these smoking restrictions are vital to help protect children and non-smokers from the dangers of passive smoking and have successfully led some people to quit smoking.

There is concern, however, that a growing number of smokers mistakenly believe cutting back significantly reduces their risk of cancer.

Professor Martin Jarvis, from the Health Behaviour Unit at University College London, says: “As a first step towards quitting smoking altogether, cutting down can be helpful for some people, but it should not stop there. Cutting down can easily be a fool’s paradise because, without realising it, people smoke their remaining cigarettes more intensively, and can end up getting just as much exposure to tar and other harmful smoke components as before they reduced their cigarette consumption.”

Jean King, Director of Tobacco Control at Cancer Research UK, says: “We think there is a danger that people are becoming confused about the health issues surrounding levels of smoking and work must continue to encourage people to quit altogether rather than just to cut down.

“Quitting is not easy as the nicotine delivered in tobacco smoke is a highly addictive substance. Furthermore, research shows that people who cut back, or switch to ‘low-tar’ cigarettes, may often inhale more deeply and can be just as addicted to nicotine as people who smoke more.

“Cancer Research UK supports all effective forms of smoking cessation aids, including Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). There is evidence, however, which suggests that less heavy smokers who have tried, but failed, to quit with the help of NRT may not have received a strong enough dose. This is because, traditionally, the number of cigarettes smoked per day is used as a guide to the strength of product smokers need.”

Mark Dickinson, Marketing Manager for NiQuitin CQ, says: “Smoking patterns have definitely changed as tobacco control measures have been introduced. Only one out of four smokers now consume more than 20 cigarettes per day – the traditional cut off point between light and heavy smokers. However, two out of three smoke a cigarette within half an hour of waking, indicating heavy nicotine dependence. We believe it’s really important for quitters to get enough nicotine to overcome their cravings and that ‘cigarettes per day’ is becoming less relevant as a marker of nicotine addiction, so we have developed a new approach, using ‘time to first cigarette’, to counteract this.”

Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, Sir Paul Nurse, says: “If people are to successfully quit these messages get through to smokers and health professionals, such as GPs and pharmacists, so they can provide appropriate support to smokers who want to overcome their addiction.

“A number of important steps have been taken to tackle the problems around tobacco use and dependence. The Government must be applauded for the support it has given to smoking cessation initiatives so far.

“It is important for this work to continue and to be consolidated with messages that cutting back is only part of the story – giving up altogether should be the ultimate goal.”