Call for nicotine patches on NHS

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of MPs and experts yesterday called for nicotine patches and gum to be made available on prescription to help smokers quit, and thus reduce the financial burden on the National Health Service.

Smoking costs the NHS pounds 1.7bn a year and is a principal contributor to inequalities in health, with the highest levels of smoking occurring among the most disadvantaged members of society, who also have greatest difficulty in giving up.

The group, led by the Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson, who is chairman of the all-party cancer group, said that the expense of nicotine replacement therapy - from pounds 120 to more than pounds 200 for a three-month supply - could put some smokers off making the attempt to give up.

Godfrey Fowler, Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Oxford University and the chairman of an expert panel convened by Novartis, a manufacturer of the nicotine products, said: "With the prevalence of smoking increasing after 20 years of decline it is clear that positive action must be taken to get ahead in the war against smoking and tobacco. We are asking the Government, those responsible for public policy, healthcare professionals and smokers alike to recognise that nicotine replacement therapy is not only safe but is also the most effective aid to smoking cessation currently available."

Trials have shown that the use of nicotine patches and gum increases success rates among smokers attempting to give up the habit from around 3 per cent to 6 per cent.

A report produced by the panel, which includes Professor John Moxham, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at King's College, London, and Dr Martin Jarvis, a researcher on smoking at University College London, says tobacco addiction should be taken as seriously as alcohol or drug addiction and efforts should be made to increase awareness of the benefits of using nicotine therapy.

Dr Jarvis said: "Over 4,000 harmful products have been identified in cigarette smoke and within these it is the tars that contain the major carcinogens. There is no evidence that nicotine is carcinogenic."

Kevin Barron, the chairman of the Labour backbench health committee and of the all-party parliamentary smoking and health group, said: "The NHS should run some pilot programmes, using either health improvement programmes or health action zones, to measure, through independent evaluation, the health and cost benefit of such strategies."

The launch of the report at the House of Commons drew protests from the Tory MP Gerald Howarth, who said it was wrong for a commercial company to use the facilities of the Commons to promote its products under the guise of addressing a matter of public policy. His intervention was later denounced by Dr Gibson, who said it was "outrageous ... and 100 per cent false".