Vapour cure at hand for long-term smokers

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A new device like a plastic pen top, launched today, could provide the assistance hardened smokers need to give up. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, talks to one woman who says it has helped her to break a decades-old habit.

Sue Bargery has tried everything during her 38-year smoking career. Willpower, group therapy, nicotine chewing gum, nicotine patches - most of which have made worse her addiction to cigarettes. But now, with a simple plastic device that allows her to suck nicotine vapour directly into her mouth, she believes she has turned the corner.

"Each time I have gone back to smoking, I have smoked more. When they banned smoking in the office I used to chew nicotine gum and smoke in the cigarette breaks. I have found this latest product quite amazing."

Mrs Bargery, 51, an administrator at Surrey University, has smoked since she was 13 and was getting through 25 to 30 cigarettes a day.

She volunteered for a trial of the new Nicorette Inhalator out of desperation - and curiosity.

The inhalator is a plastic tube like a cigarette holder with replaceable cartridges of nicotine. By sucking on the tube the smoker can obtain a dose of nicotine equivalent to a third of that in a cigarette but without cancer-causing lungfuls of smoke.

Mrs Bargery said: "For long-term smokers it is not so much the nicotine that counts as having something in your hand to put in your mouth and mess about with. Nothing else dealt with that."

The nicotine is absorbed through the membranes of the mouth more quickly than from chewing gum or patches. But because it is not hot, as in a cigarette, it is not volatile enough to be drawn down into the lungs so does not deliver the nicotine "hit" that smokers get from cigarettes.

"I suffered quite severe depression when I tried to give up. I was miserable and irritable. But with this I have not had the withdrawal symptoms and I am getting used to doing without cigarettes."

There are an estimated 8 million smokers who would like to quit in the United Kingdom, and trials have shown that the inhalator can double the success rates achieved with other products.

It is being sold over the counter, without a prescription, and costs pounds 5.95 for a starter pack and pounds 19.95 for a week's supply of refills, about the same as the cost of smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

ASH, the anti-smoking pressure group, said the device should be available on the NHS. Clive Bates, the group's director, said: "Poor smokers are more likely to be put off by the cost. If it [and similar products] were available at a subsidised rate more people would stop smoking and more lives would be saved."