Two thirds of smokers who quit last New Year were back on cigarettes within a month.

Two thirds of smokers who quit last New Year were back on cigarettes within a month.

Some 12,000 smokers - 62 per cent of them women - decided to give up with the help of NHS programmes last year. But after four weeks just 4,100, about 34 per cent, were still not smoking.

New figures reveal that 70 per cent of smokers want to give up. An estimated two million people will make a resolution to stop tomorrow. Most will fail within hours.

Quitline, the helpline run by the charity Quit, said it was expecting 1,000 calls on New Year's Day alone, and an average of 800 a day until the end of the month. But anti-smoking charities, doctors and Government ministers are well aware of the difficulties involved in getting smokers to kick the habit.

Ministers are looking at new ways to reduce smoking in the New Year. Following a six-week consultation and trials in Health Action Zones, Yvette Cooper, public health minister, is expected to announce at the end of January that nicotine patches and other replacement products will be available free on the NHS. She said: "Making NRT available on prescription as well as in pharmacies will increase the chances of quitting for the less affluent smokers, help to reduce tobacco deaths and health inequalities."

The Government, as part of its anti-smoking drive launched in the recent NHS plan, will next year roll out full smoking cessation services in all health authority areas.

Ministers have also set targets in an attempt to stem the 120,000 smoking-related deaths each year and reduce the prevalence of heart disease and cancer. It aims to reduce adult smoking so that the rate falls from 28 to 26 per cent by 2005 and 24 per cent by 2010; to reduce smoking among children from 13 to 11 per cent by 2005 and to 9 per cent by 2010; and to reduce the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy from 23 to 18 per cent by 2005 and to 15 per cent by 2010.

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