Stoptober, Public Health England’s 28- day stop smoking challenge, is back. Following its success last year, comedians Bill Bailey, Shappi Khorsandi, Rhod Gilbert and Al Murray will be supporting this year’s campaign, sharing their personal experiences and providing humorous messages of support.
All pharmacies are invited to get involved and offer support, products and advice to the 260,000 or so smokers who are expected to take up the challenge. According to Public Health England, people are five times more likely to stay smoke free if they can stop for 28 days. Public Health England offers a variety of free support tools for smokers, including a mobile phone app, a quitting pack and emails and text messages from the comedians.
There are also be lots of tips, jokes and distractions available on Stoptober’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, along with supportive messages from the thousands of people quitting together. So why should community pharmacies be involved in this year’s campaign?
The proportion of the British adult population who smoke cigarettes has fallen by more than a half in the last 40 years. Latest data (2013) from the Office for National Statistics reveals that smokers now account for around 19 per cent of the population. Not only have fewer people taken up smoking over the last 40 years, but also more of those who did smoke have now quit.
However, this doesn’t mean that healthcare professionals such as pharmacists should become complacent. Sid Dajani, community pharmacist and Royal Pharmaceutical Society board member, says that pharmacists should use Stoptober to remind customers about the pharmacy services on offer. “I recommend smoking cessation services whenever customers come in for the new medicine service, medicines use review, diabetes or cardiovascular medication – in fact, anything that’s remotely relevant,” he says.
“Fewer customers are now smoking, but I’m targeting specific ‘at risk’ groups – mental health patients, pregnant women and those using other addiction services. People often think of GPs as lecturers, telling them not to smoke rather than giving them regular advice, usually because most GPs don’t have the time to chat,” he says.
“A pharmacy is an Aladdin’s cave of smoking cessation advice, not just products. No other healthcare professionals is as readily available as a The 28-day challenge community pharmacist.” According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), smokers getting support from local specialist stop smoking services are four times more likely to quit than those going ‘cold turkey’.
But statistics released this August show that fewer people are accessing these services. Between April 2014 and March 2015, 450,582 people set a quit date with the Stop Smoking Services in England. This is down 23 per cent on the previous year and is the third consecutive year to show a fall in the number of people using the services. At the four-week follow-up, 229,688 people – just over 51 per cent – reported that they had successfully stopped smoking.
Stuart Gale, chief pharmacist at the Frosts Pharmacy Group and Oxford Online Pharmacy, says that community pharmacies are a much under-used asset and should be the first port of call for smokers looking to quit. “With pharmacies, no appointment is needed, they are on every high street and are quite often open six to seven days a week,” he says.
“Smoking is obviously a huge issue and we want to do whatever we can to help people quit before it’s too late. Every pharmacy should offer the same service, so pharmacy becomes the recognised place to give up. It should be a national scheme not just a local one that works only when the accredited pharmacist happens to be there.”
Smoking cessation is a year-round issue. But Stuart Gale says that Stoptober often gives pharmacies the excuse or icebreaker required to talk to patients to see if they would like support to quit.
“We will be creating in-store displays and encouraging brief interventions when speaking with customers,” he says. “Online, we will be promoting the service on the site and with an e-mail marketing campaign.” Gul Root, lead pharmacist at Public Health England, agrees that Stoptober can be a great conversation starter at this time of year.
“On a daily basis, pharmacists and their teams continue to help and advise their customers on routes to stop smoking,” she says. “We’re delighted to be working with thousands of pharmacies across the country to encourage more sign ups and quit attempts. Pharmacists who want to get involved in the campaign can apply for a toolkit, which will provide further information about the campaign as well as access to a whole host of other collateral.”
Samantha Preston, pharmacist at Celesio UK, says that 77 per cent of all pharmacy stores participated in the 2014 Stoptober campaign, and 100 per cent of LloydsPharmacy stores took part. All LloydsPharmacy stores will again be participating in this year’s Stoptober campaign, encouraging their patients to sign up and providing them with help and advice throughout their quitting journey. Celesio UK will be actively promoting the campaign through various channels, including Careway pharmacies via AAH Pharmaceuticals.
“Pharmacists are well-placed to give advice on public health campaigns, as they interact with a vast number of people,” says Ms Preston. “For many people, pharmacists are the only regular healthcare professionals they come into contact with. This provides pharmacy teams with the ideal opportunity to engage with customers about health and wellbeing campaigns, such as Stoptober.”
“By ensuring pharmacy teams are knowledgeable on smoking cessation, they will be better equipped and more confident to approach suitable customers on services provided within pharmacy.”
Messages from UK comedians have been encouraging people to sign up for Stoptober, and will help motivate them through their quit attempt.
When it comes to quitting for good, there’s no single solution. According to Samantha Preston, quitting smoking is a very personal journey and pharmacies should help customers find the most suitable products, acknowledging that one person’s needs are likely to be very different to the next person’s.
“By offering a wide range of nicotine replacement therapy, customers are more likely to find one that works for them,” she says. “Pharmacy teams should remind customers that even if they have failed to quit before, it’s still worth trying again.
As well as products, pharmacies should give advice about the challenges the customer is likely to face on their quit attempt (e.g. cravings) and provide tips on overcoming these. The pharmacy team should be approachable and be willing to aid customers throughout their quitting journey.”
Vishal Mashru, VM Pharmacy Services, Leicester ‘This is definitely one of the biggest parts of our business. We’ve stayed away from e-cigarettes and vape sticks, because we don’t know all that much about them yet and they’re not something we want to be involved with at the moment. We advise customers to use a patch and then have an alternative product, such as a lozenge, which they can use as well. Patients tend to prefer multiple products. The category is getting wider, which is good, because there is more to recommend. We promote smoking cessation with local surgeries and local customers. There’s a lot of awareness now with Stoptober and No Smoking Day in March and in our area it’s a prevalent problem. We’ll be handing out Quit Kits and other resources this month.’
Rena Dadra, Village Pharmacy, Harlington ‘We want to help as many people as possible to stop smoking and most of my colleagues are trained for this. Assistants make sure the customer knows we offer the stop smoking service when they sell a related product. Some people are hesitant to buy the products so it helps that with the service they only have to pay for the prescription. We currently sell e-cigarettes, and I’ve seen quite a big increase in sales. Last year we stopped selling them for a while over safety concerns. I’m still unsure about them; we haven’t had much training. This time of year we move the category to the top of the shelf, because Christmas is down the road. Getting information out to customer is the most critical thing to get right in this category.’
Ranjit Mann, Ringwood pharmacy, Coventry ‘We have three stop smoking advisors in the pharmacy, and we try to encourage as many people as possible to come in and try our stop smoking programme. October is a good time for people to think about giving up smoking. Getting the advice and product right for each person is important; everyone has a different experience. For example, if someone’s looking to have a cigarette as soon as they wake up, it’s important to help stop that craving then. When they get their cravings will decide whether we offer them a 24hr patch or a 16hr patch, plus a spray to use as and when they need. We can also offer Champix under a PGD. I’d say that there is a place for e-cigarettes, but because there isn’t any safety data yet, we don’t stock them.’