Did you know that wherever you live in the UK, you have easy access to a free service that’s proven to help you stop smoking?
The NHS Stop Smoking Service is a national network of advisers who are trained to help you quit. They will give you accurate information and advice on how to quit, and give you professional support during the first few weeks after you have stopped smoking.
They also make it easy and affordable for you to get stop smoking treatment including nicotine replacement therapy such as patches and gum.
You will normally be offered a one-to-one appointment with an adviser, but many areas also offer group and drop-in services as well. Depending on where you live, the venue could be a local GP surgery, pharmacy, high street shop or even a mobile bus clinic.
Jennifer Percival, who trains NHS stop smoking advisers, says that a combination of support and treatment is proven to give you the best chance of stopping smoking.
“The majority of people who see an adviser will get through the first month after quitting without smoking a cigarette. And overall, you’re up to four times more likely to stop smoking for good if you receive help from an NHS Stop Smoking Service,” she says.
What happens at the first stop smoking session?
At your first meeting with an adviser, you’ll talk about why you smoke and why you want to quit, as well as any past attempts to quit that you’ve made. You’ll also be able to decide on a quit date.
You’ll be offered a breath test which shows the level of carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas in cigarette smoke) in your body.
“You don’t need to be sure you want to quit or have a quit plan in mind before this meeting,” says Jennifer. “You can use the time to talk your situation through with the adviser without making a commitment. If you do decide to quit, the adviser can help you form an action plan and set a quit date, usually in a week or so.”
Stop smoking aids
At your first session, you’ll also discuss NHS-endorsed treatments available to help you stop smoking. These are nicotine replacement therapy – including patches, gum, lozenges, microtabs, inhalators and mouth and nasal sprays – and the stop smoking tablets Champix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion).
“No one is forced to use treatment,” says Jennifer, “but we will encourage it because the results are better. All the treatments we recommend can double your chances of quitting.
“We can help you decide which type of treatment is right for you and how to use it. In some cases, we can directly supply you with the treatment before you leave, or we can arrange for you to receive a prescription or a voucher for it. In the case of nicotine replacement therapy, it often works out at least a third cheaper than buying it from a pharmacy.”
She points out that NHS advisers only provide evidence-based treatments. “We won’t suggest or recommend hypnosis or acupuncture as there’s not enough evidence they help you stop smoking.”
As a general rule, you will have weekly face-to-face or phone contact with your adviser for the first four weeks after you quit smoking, then less frequently for a further eight weeks.
At each meeting, you’ll receive a supply of treatment or a prescription for it, and have your carbon monoxide level measured. You’ll have an emergency number for out-of-hours times when you crave a cigarette and want help to avoid lighting up.
“Going on the 12-week programme requires you to commit to not having a single puff of a cigarette,” says Jennifer. “Measuring carbon monoxide levels is not about checking up on you. It’s more to motivate you to stay smoke free by showing how you body is already recovering.”
NHS stop smoking advisers are also very experienced in helping you identify difficult situations when there may be a strong temptation to relapse and start smoking. And they can help you come up with ways to cope with or avoid these situations.
“If you do relapse, we won’t judge or nag you or take it personally. We’re a friendly face that understands how difficult it is to quit, and we’ll help you get back on track to becoming a non-smoker,” says Jennifer.