Calls have been made for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to be made available free of charge to more people.
NRT includes products such as patches and chewing gum. According to the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), research suggests that the use of NRT alone makes smokers 50-70% more likely to quit the habit, and when used in conjunction with community-based supports, people are more likely to remain off cigarettes.
However, a survey carried out on behalf of the ICS in December 2017 found that despite the fact that over 80% of smokers claim they have attempted to quit smoking, many of these are unaware of the supports available to them and almost 60% have not used NRT.
In fact, just 40% of smokers say they would use NRT and reasons for not using it include the belief that it does not work and the expense associated with it.
Speaking about this issue, Donal Buggy of the ICS said that this survey shows that people ‘are clearly willing to kick the habit of smoking for good, with four in five smokers attempting to quit'.
However many people are still unaware of the supports available and are unconvinced about their effectiveness.
"These findings suggest there is a need to better educate the public about NRT and its effectiveness. Some smokers feel that NRT is a replacement habit for smoking, however NRT helps reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal from smoking. By using NRT when trying to quit, you dramatically decrease the amount of harmful toxins you take in, while managing the physical need to smoke," Mr Buggy explained.
He insisted that if NRT was made available free of charge to people enrolled in smoking cessation programmes, participants would be more willing to use it.
"If the Government is serious about achieving its target of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025, they need to offer this additional support to smokers," Mr Buggy added.
Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has called on the Department of Health to make NRT available to medical card holders without the need for a prescription. It said this would reduce the barriers that currently prevent medical card holders from accessing help that would improve their health.
"Smoking rates are highest in the lowest socio-economic groups. It is much more common among those with a medical card (28.3%) than those without (19.2%). Similarly, lower socio-economic groups experience fewer successful quit attempts.
"It is clear we need to think differently about how we support people to quit smoking. The majority of smokers want to quit, but many don't know where to start or feel discouraged if they've had a lapse," commented Ann Marie Horan of the IPU.
She pointed out that pharmacists have been providing a smoking cessation service to private patients since 2014. They can help people to understand what method will work best for them, while providing impartial advice on supports, such as NRT, to help manage and reduce cravings.
"There should not be artificial bureaucratic barriers to medical card patients availing of these potentially life-saving supports. This is a scheme that can be easily and quickly implemented as, from a practical and professional perspective, no further training for pharmacists is required," Ms Horan added.
The ICS and IPU made their calls to coincide with National No Smoking Day (February 14).