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Don't wait to quit smoking



A NORTH East respiratory doctor is making a powerful plea for smokers to quit for COVID and other vital health reasons in a major new campaign launching this week on TV, radio, digital and social media.


Dr Ruth Sharrock's "don't wait" appeal is a reminder of the many reasons to quit smoking – lung damage, weakened immune systems, cancer, heart attack, diabetes and stroke – which means if people do get the coronavirus, symptoms could be more severe.


The campaign – across the North East and North Cumbria - is being launched by Fresh with the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care System Prevention Board.


The latest advice to smokers and vapers from Public Health England (29 May) is that if you smoke, you generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infections and of more severe symptoms once infected. Coronavirus symptoms may, therefore, be more severe if you smoke. Stopping smoking will bring immediate benefits to health, including if you have an existing smoking-related disease.


Respiratory consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock, from Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and a member of Gateshead Smokefree Alliance, said: "We all want to protect ourselves and our families right now, but that is especially important if you smoke.


"In the last few months we have seen the awful effects of COVID-19 across our hospitals and communities. We already know smoking causes many diseases, and harms the lungs and immune system and making it harder for the body to fight off infection. This means if you do get coronavirus, symptoms may be more severe. I am really proud to support this campaign and to share my own experiences, hoping that it inspires more people to make quit attempts.


She added: "In my role, I particularly work with patients with COPD and Lung cancer, so I see the terrible harms of smoking on a daily basis. It is devastating to watch patients and their families having to deal with such difficult diagnoses.


"It is never too late to see the benefits that come from quitting smoking. Even if it has already caused health problems, whilst some diseases can not be reversed, the disability that they cause, or the response to treatment can still be improved by stopping. I see some incredible success stories from patients who have been able to stop, despite considerable health issues already - they get a new lease of life and all wish they had done it sooner. You should never give up on yourself – my advice is to give it another go and try until you succeed."


Dr Guy Pilkington, Newcastle GP and clinical lead for Population Health and Prevention for the North East and Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Syste, said: ""Reducing smoking is vital to reduce health inequalities here in the North East and North Cumbria. This is why prevention is a key priority and why we are supporting efforts to reduce overall adult smoking to 5% by 2025.


"I know personally from seeing patients how important it is for us to support people to stop smoking and whilst I know it can be hard to quit, I am always so pleased when patients do manage to do this- it's the best thing they can do for their health."


Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: "There has possibly never been a more important time to quit smoking than right now. The coronavirus pandemic is focusing everyone's minds on staying healthy and for people who smoke, quitting is an incredibly important step.


"We know that some people think it is too late to see any benefits from quitting smoking, but the fact is that there are health benefits to be gained from quitting at any age.


"We are delighted to see such support from our NHS and from Directors of Public Health to raise this important message and to encourage more smokers to quit."


Prof Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health for Newcastle City Council and lead tobacco DPH for the North East, said: "You would be hard pressed to find any family in the North East that doesn't have one family member who has been affected by smoking. Historically we have had higher rates of smoking and even though rates have nearly halved since 2005, smoking still causes over 5000 deaths a year in the North East and around 78,800 deaths a year in England.


"Reducing smoking is the single most effective thing we can do to stop preventable deaths and campaigns like this play an important role in reminding people why it is important for their health to stop or not to start smoking in the first place."


Martin Dockrell, Tobacco Control Lead at Public Health England, said: "As people begin to get out and about again it is more important than ever that we all take care to stay safe and healthy. Today is a very good day to get all the help you need to stop smoking for good."


Deborah Arnott chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "Education campaigns play a key role in reducing smoking prevalence because they are a highly cost-effective way to motivate smokers to quit and discourage children from becoming addicted in the first place. ASH is delighted to be working closely with both Fresh and the Greater Manchester Making Smoking History programme on the national Quit For Covid campaign too."


Research published in the British Medical Journal found that among 20,133 hospital in-patients with COVID-19, nearly 1 in 5 (18%) had COPD – which is mainly caused by smoking, while nearly 1 in 3 (31%) had chronic cardiac disease.


In April figures were published from UK arm of YouGov's international Covid Tracker suggesting that at least 300,000 people have quit smoking successfully, a further 550,000 have tried to quit and 2.4 million have cut down on the amount of cigarettes they smoke due to growing concerns around coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increased risk smokers may face.


Visit the national Smokefree website for information, local stop smoking service numbers and advice on stopping smoking.





A COVID-19 scare left 68-year-old Terry Craggs from Walker in Newcastle concerned for his health. After spending a week in hospital on oxygen, he was determined not to go back to smoking and so asked his GP for help.


"I went into hospital with breathing difficulties in March. I had to stay in for a week and they had me on oxygen the whole time. Thankfully, the test for COVID-19 came back negative and I could go home once my breathing improved.


"Although I could smoke when I came out, I knew that I wanted to stop for good. But, with 40 years smoking, I was worried that I might go back to it and wanted help to stay stopped.


"My doctor prescribed patches and a stop smoking inhalator that looked like a tab. I couldn't use that in the end because of a separate infection but I did use the patches.


"I am on 7mg patches now, the small ones. I am half-way through and once I am done with this pack then I will be finished. I had my oxygen checked recently and they were high which is good. I am hoping that there will be no lasting damage."






Gosforth grandfather Chris Easton, 57, decided enough was enough, successfully quitting his 60-a-day smoking addiction during COVID-19, with the help of his GP.


"After a lifetime of smoking I was sick of spending almost £10 a packet on cigarettes. With me smoking 60 cigarettes a day it was costing me a small fortune.


"I started when I was 14, so that is over four decades I had been doing it. At the time, everybody else was smoking and I thought it was the right thing to do, but I know better now.


"It was the cost that was the final straw. COVID-19 also played a big part in contributing to my decision. I lost my wife three years ago to COPD, so I have seen what smoking can do and the devastation it can leave behind. My daughter has been desperate for me to quit since she lost her mam and I wanted to do it for her and my grandkids too."


Once 31-year-old dad of one and children's residential support worker Philip from West Denton Park, made up his mind to quit smoking – there was no stopping him.


Philip said: "It has been one of the things that I have been trying to do for some time, but this is the one time I have been able to see it through.


"Because of the lockdown I was spending more money on cigarettes. I work in a children's home and have worked all the way through. It is good in that I have managed to not be furloughed – but I found I would generally smoke more at work, during my breaks to 'take five' as a stress relief. Since I have quit, I don't get as stressed as I used to."