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GPs told: prepare for stampede of quitters

1 July date looms as Scotland sees surge in demand for smoking services

GPs have been warned to gear themselves up for a huge influx of quitters in the run up to the ban on smoking in public places in England.

Stop-smoking services will be unable to cope with a forecast doubling in demand unless action is taken now, a conference heard last week.

Researchers analysed data from Scotland's implementation of a ban and found a huge increase in those seeking help before the ban came in, by up to four-fold in one area.

The warning came as the Government announced that the smoking ban in England would come in on 1 July next year, giving primary care trusts seven months to prepare.

Study leader Dr Linda Bauld, reader in social policy at the University of Bath, told Pulse the smoking ban would be a missed opportunity without urgent action.

'We've got a really important message here for GPs. I would imagine there is going to be a very significant influx if the Scottish experience is anything to go on,' she said.

'What we've seen in Scotland is there's a big rush before the ban then after the ban numbers slide down again. In every primary care centre in the country there needs to be a trained adviser available – if it's a small practice they should be ready and willing to make a referral to the stop-smoking service.'

Her research, presented at a conference on tobacco control in Exeter this week, found demand for Scottish stop-smoking services surged in the run-up to the ban last March. One saw a rise in clients of over four-fold, two others a two-fold rise and another a 43 per cent rise.

The BMA called for an increase in investment in stop-smoking services to ensure they can cope with demand.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said: 'Next year's date will be a great incentive for smokers to quit. This means extra investment should be directed to cessation services.'

Dr Tim Lancaster, a GP in Oxford and a researcher on smoking cessation, said he was confident services in his area would be able to cope if they were geared up in preparation for the 1 July date.

'One of the major debates around bans has been whether they simply protect non-smokers or whether they have an impact on prevalence of smoking,' he added.

'If there is good data showing the latter is the case, that is very heartening.'

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