Many poor people want to quit smoking but do not receive the help they need, say lung specialists.
Many poor people want to quit smoking but do not receive the help they need, say lung specialists. The British Thoracic Society hit out at comments made by Health Secretary John Reid, who said smoking was one of the few pleasures for some poor people. Professor John Britton, a lung specialist at Nottingham City Hospital, told the BTS summer conference in Manchester the comment was patronising. People from all social classes want to kick the habit, he said. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more than three-quarters (76%) of people who had never worked or were unemployed said they wanted to quit smoking. But Professor Britton said these people were less likely to receive nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) than those in higher socio-economic classes. The statistics showed that, in 2002, only 10% of those who had never worked or were unemployed had NRT compared with more than 13% of those in managerial or professional classes. But those from the lowest social groups were said to be the people most likely to seek help and advice to stop smoking. Professor Britton said health workers needed to do much more in advising and supporting smokers who wanted to quit, including working-class smokers. Dr Reid attracted much criticism when he said that some people in the middle classes were “obsessed” with the smoking issue, even though it was not one of the worst problems facing poorer people. He told a meeting of health and patient groups: “I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but that is an obsession of the learned middle class. “What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette.” Misleading comments Professor Britton, a member of the BTS tobacco committee, said: “John Reid’s comments were not just patronising, they were also misleading. “The evidence shows that smokers in the lowest socio-economic groups want to give up even more than smokers from more affluent groups. “They carry on smoking, not out of choice, but because they are addicted to nicotine.” Professor Britton called for better access to smoking cessation services in deprived areas. He said: “We should also pay more attention to those 30% of smokers who are unable to stop smoking by making safer nicotine products available to them in direct competition with cigarettes. “There is a need to be more creative and flexible in our approach to tackling tobacco, which is still the largest single cause of preventable death and disease in Europe.” (Source: BBC Health, June 2004)