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We can make a real difference and save someone's life

I, like Marilyn (Smoke won't get in your eyes; 6 June 2007) will be looking forward to 1 July 2007 when legislation to stop smoking in public places in England comes into place - but for very different reasons.

Having lost my mother six years ago to lung cancer, which was due to the effects of smoking from the age of 15 years of age (she was 65 when she died), I know only too well the effects of long-term damage to a person's health - and the devastating effect this has on their family. Death rates from lung disease in the UK are twice the European average. We should all be celebrating the smoking ban and see this as a unique opportunity to support patients and their families to stop smoking.

Every healthcare professional should have the skills and knowledge to support patients who want to stop smoking whatever their age and no matter how long they have been smoking. The government has ensured that every NHS trust has a smoking cessation service. However, it is essential that all clinicians have updated training so that every face-to-face contact can be used as an opportunity to identify and support patients thinking about giving up smoking.

A recent survey by the British Lung Foundation found that simple activities such as walking, playing with children or going on holiday were impossible for many patients with lung disease. How I wish my mum had been able to do these things, but with years of smoking the effects on her respiratory function were catastrophic. We had to plan and think ahead if we wanted to do anything active in case it was too far to walk, or worse still, it was a place that didn't allow smoking as cigarettes had become so addictive she could not go very long without her "fix". She never ran about or played with her grandchildren as she would have become too breathless. We argued about smoking, including the effects of passive smoking. She argued back "It hasn't done Donna any harm".

Secondhand smoke kills and evidence suggests that there is no safe level of exposure - so how do I know?

Smoking causes around one third of all cancer deaths and while the prevalence of smoking among adults in England has fallen from 28% in 1998 to 24% in 1995, we should not become complacent. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK with over 38,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

There is much to be done to prevent further deaths and improve the quality of lives of people who want to give up smoking. Never before has there been so much investment, resources and opportunity for patients to access support to give up smoking.

Have you managed to get someone to quit who was perceived to be "difficult"? How did you do it? Share your experiences with us and help other healthcare professionals make a real difference - and save someone's life.

Department of Health


British Lung Foundation