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Smoking cessation scripts double but no rise in quitters

The Government's anti-smoking drive is stalling as new figures show a near doubling in prescriptions of smoking cessation drugs last year led to only a negligible rise in the national quit rate.

The figures prompted claims from smoking cessation experts that money is being wasted on prescribing drugs for patients who do not have the motivation to quit.

Nicotine replacement therapy prescriptions rose 79 per cent to 1.17 million in 2002, compared with the previous year. Scripts for Zyban (bupropion) were up 228 per cent to 299,000, new Department of Health statistics reveal. Overall cost of the drugs to the NHS rose 91 per cent to £37.1 million, excluding discounts and dispensing fees.

But the number of patients who succeeded in giving up

after using NHS smoking cessation services was 79,600 between April and December 2002 ­ a rise of just 0.3 per cent on the previous year, according to NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp's latest bulletin.

Government data released in March suggested two-thirds of smokers wanted to stop but smoking prevalence in adults remained static at 27 per cent between 2000 and 2001.

Dr Tim Lancaster, Coch-rane tobacco addiction group editor and a GP in Oxford, said: 'We have always known the absolute quit rates with whatever the treatment are low.'

Dr Lancaster, reader in general practice at the University of Oxford, added: 'Even if you start at a 1 per cent quit rate, which is the background population level, you're only going to get it up to 2, so you're going to have an awful lot of failed attempts.'

Dr Trevor Stammers, senior tutor in general practice at St George's Hospital medical school in London, said: 'Success rates are increased with appropriate treatment but a lot of money is being wasted on products people are taking and still smoking.'

Dr Stammers, a GP in Wandsworth, south London, added: 'Whenever you ease access to a treatment it's obviously going to increase the number of punters who ask for it. But in this situation, I don't think you will increase the number of people who use it appropriately or the number of quitters. I have a patient who is both smoking and unable to stop nicotine patches.'

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