As a respiratory consultant, I witness day-to-day the life changing effects smoking has on people and the impact it also has on their loved ones.
Smoking is thought to cause about 85% of lung cancer. This cancer is the second most common in men and women and unfortunately kills more people in the UK than breast and bowel cancer combined.
The reason that lung cancer kills so many is that people present with symptoms when the cancer is advanced and treatment at this stage is palliative and, on average, only improves survival by a few months.
Screening for lung cancer using CT scans offers some hope: this has recently been shown to be effective in detecting lung cancer early when it can be cured. The National Screening Committee and the Department of Health Science and Technology Committee are currently considering evidence and proposals for a screening programme. However stopping smoking is the most effective method of reducing death from lung cancer.
People who have never smoked have under a 0.5% risk of dying from lung cancer by the age of 75. People who stop at the age of 60 have an 11% risk. The earlier people stop, the less risk. Stopping smoking (or never starting) is incredibly important which is why there is now so much anti-smoking legislation. Despite this 20% of people still smoke.
Quitting smoking is very difficult for some people because it is highly addictive. There are a variety of smoking cessation aides including nicotine replacement therapy and some drugs; these are more effective if given with counselling and if the individual is motivated.
E-cigarettes also seem to be effective in reducing the number of cigarettes people smoke and are favoured as one method of “harm reduction”. However, as e-cigarettes are relatively new, research into the long-term health implications is minimal, which is why it is important we monitor the health effects of these.