‘Ditch or Switch’ says North East Smoking Charity

A North East smoking charity has warned smokers that simply cutting down their habit is not enough to prevent potentially fatal diseases.

FRESH has relaunched their ‘Don’t be the 1’ campaign which highlights the fact that half of all long-term smokers will die from smoking. This would mean 196,000 of the North East’s 392,000 smokers are at risk unless they quit.

Since 2005, The number of smokers in the North East has fallen from 29% to 18.7% in the equivalent of around 189,000 fewer adult smokers. Many of the regions smokers have cut down – with 1 in five smokers consuming five or fewer cigarettes a day compared to 1 in 10 smokers in 2009.

Director of the charity Ailsa Rutter has warned smokers:  “Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re not doing any harm to your body by cutting down to that level of smoking”. Research shows that people who smoke just up to four cigarettes a day have five times the risk of developing lung cancer and those who smoke between one and ten a day are six times more likely to die from respiratory illnesses than those who have never smoked.

Light smoking has an impact on frailty in older people as well as a number of other worrying health issues. Grandfather-of-six Wilfred Curry, 71, has smoked an average of 15-25 cigarettes a day, on and off for over 50 years. He said: “We lived in a mining village and practically everybody smoked so you get into that environment where you go into the bar or into the lounge and people smoke so you think it’s alright this but in actual fact it’s not alright.”

Eighteen months ago Mr Curry started to get pains in his calf which got worse as time went on. Unable to walk more than 50yards without being in agony eventually the pain in his leg got so severe that he couldn’t walk. An MRI scan showed that there was a blocked artery in his leg, the surgeon told him he would have to give up smoking or he would lose his leg.

Mr Curry said this was the shock he needed to quit. He said: “I tried to go on e-cigarettes, they did nothing for me, not like a cigarette would, but if anything else happened with my leg because I wouldn’t stop smoking I wouldn’t get anything else done and would probably end up with my leg being took off. I was thinking if I end up with my leg off I’m going to end up in a right blinkin’ how do you do”.

After attending a cessation course at Blackhall Colliery and switching onto patches, he has now gave up smoking for over 14 weeks after almost half a century.

Research from Cancer Research UK[x] found that people who switched from smoking tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum or patches for at least six months had much lower levels of toxins and cancer causing chemicals than those who continued to smoke. But stopping smoking tobacco completely was needed to get the health benefits.

“I just assumed that the pain in my leg was off the trapped nerve in my leg and I had no idea it was a blockage in my artery. It’s definitely an incentive just to stop smoking altogether. I’m chuffed to bits with myself. I won’t go back.” Mr Curry said about his new lease of life.

The North East currently has the lowest youth smoking rates on record and has seen a corresponding fall in deaths but Ms Rutter warns those who don’t think smoking is an issue because of their age should seriously reconsider. She said: “Damage accumulates the more past years you’ve had of smoking. When we get really worried is when teenagers start smoking and they say they’ll quit when they have a baby or buy a house or when they’re 40 or 50. On average in the North East as a smoker you lose at least ten years of your life. The sooner you can quit the better”

Every year in the North East smoking still causes:

  • 5,416 deaths from a smoking-related disease.
  • 445,400 GP appointments, and 101,600 hospital admissions and outpatient appointments from the five main diseases linked to smoking.
  • A cost to local authorities of £44m in social care costs from smoking-related diseases for adults over 50.

Mrs Rutter added: “If you set fire to that tobacco you’re breathing in, whether it’s one cigarette a day or 20 cigarettes a day, you’re breathing in a lethal cocktail of thousands of chemicals such as lead, arsenic, a long list of harmful poisons so if you’re not ready to stop, think about switching to a safer form of getting your nicotine. Don’t be one of the two who die down to a smoking related illness”

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