Cancer charity tries to smoke out lottery aid

Scheme to help the poor give up cigarettes aims to win 'funding for the disadvantaged'
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The Independent Online
A major cancer charity believes it has found a winning formula to beat the National Lottery's reluctance to fund medical research projects.

While medical research charities are not barred from applying for funds, the lottery organisers have said money should go first to charities for the poor and disadvantaged.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund has submitted a pounds 270,000 application designed to benefit smokers "on the breadline".

"Half of the most affluent smokers have now given up but only 5 per cent of the most deprived have done so," said Martin Jarvis, head of the ICRF's health behaviour unit. "Seventy per cent of the people who can least afford it still smoke. It hits their health through a one-in-two chance of premature death and also their pockets, since poor smokers spend as much as one- fifth of their available income on cigarettes."

Research has shown poor smokers are more than twice as likely than non- smokers to say they lack food, shoes, coats and other essential items for their children. "Giving up smoking would see huge improvements to their general health and well being of their whole families - improvements likely to pass to future generations," Mr Jarvis said.

The three-year project is designed to test whether an anti-smoking programme using nicotine replacement patches, tailored to the needs of heavy smokers who have little money, could boost their chances of quitting the habit.

Patches are not available on prescription and a full course can cost over pounds 190. The Department of Health argues that if people do not smoke they can afford to buy the patches with their cigarette money.

The plan is to involve 1,800 smokers who want to stop. Initially the smokers will get two week's free supply of patches through their GP and a further supply only if they are succeeding.

Professor Karol Sikora, deputy director of clinical research at the fund, said: "We believe that helping the poorest in society to stop smoking would not only improve their health but also alleviate some of the effects of poverty. This application falls well within the current National Lottery guidelines."

Nicotine replacement, with advice from a doctor and support from other health professionals, can double a smoker's chances of quitting.

There is nothing to indicate that the poorest members of society are any different from middle-class people in their desire to stop or their chances of success when they try, the ICRF says.