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Keep calm and quit smoking



In the run up to what can be the most stressful time of the year at Christmas, Fresh is encouraging smokers to quit to help stay calmer – with smoking increasing the risk of anxiety and depression and draining family finances.


Fresh and the region's two mental health trusts are highlighting research showing smokers have a 70% increased risk of anxiety and depression compared with non-smokers, despite the common myth that lighting up is a stress reliever.


The research by world leading smoking cessation expert Professor Robert West of UCL (University College London), found that 18.3% of smokers reported suffering depression and anxiety compared to 10% of non-smokers and 11.3% of ex-smokers. It supports another review in the British Medical Journal in 2014 which found quitting smoking has an  equal or stronger effect on treating mood and anxiety than antidepressants.


Money worries are often a source of stress. Of the 302,000 households in the North East that include an adult smoker, 102,000 are below the poverty line.


A 18 a day budget brand smoker buying in bulk could be spending around £45.60 a week, £197 a month, and £2371 a year on cigarettes.


Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "Smokers will often feel stressed and tense if they haven't had a cigarette in a while. This anxiety is created by the brain craving more nicotine. People can feel irritable between cigarettes and smoking allows them to feel normal again.


"Their next cigarette relieves these symptoms, but only temporarily. This is an up down pattern which is common among many smokers, but quitting breaks this vicious cycle. Not shelling out for cigarettes also helps keep more money in your pocket, avoiding a major source of worry about how the bills are going to be paid."


Of the 10 million smokers in the UK today, almost one in three reports mental health issues. The prevalence of smoking among people with mental health issues has barely changed in the past 20 years.


Although less than one in five of the general population smokes, the figure among people with mental health disorders is 40%, and is even higher in those with more severe mental disorders.


It is not clear whether smoking is the cause or effect. However, some researchers believe that smoking could act as a trigger for mental ill-health. There is also some evidence which suggests that smoking may play a role in the onset of mental health conditions.


As a result of high smoking rates, people with a mental health condition also have higher death rates compared to the general population.


Tobacco can also make some medication for people with mental health problems less effective, resulting in increased dosages and more side effects.


Dr Damian Robinson, Group Medical Director (Inpatient Care Services) for Northumberland Tyne & Wear Foundation Trust, said: "It is clear that quitting smoking can bring real benefits to people with everyday stress and anxiety. It will surprise many people who smoke that quitting can improve mood and reduce anxiety in the same way as abut anti-depressants and I'd urge anyone who thinks that they smoke to relieve stress to give it a go.


Dr Angus Bell, Senior Clinical Director of Adult Services, Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Foundation NHS Trust, said: "In fact, because smoking also causes heart disease and cancer, quitting is the single most important thing people with any type of mental health problem can do to improve their physical and mental health."


Professor Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology at UCL and lead researcher, said: "Our study found that long-term ex-smokers have similar prevalence of anxiety and depression to non-smokers and considerably lower levels than smokers. Quitting smoking could be the key to improving not only your physical health, but your mental health too."


If you want to stop smoking, talk to your pharmacy, ask at your GP surgery, or call your local Stop Smoking Service:


0800 531 6317

South Tyneside

0191 424 7300


Freephone 0800 531 6317

Northumberland NHS Stop Smoking Service

01670 813 135

North Tyneside NHS Stop Smoking Service

0345 2000 101

Newcastle NHS Stop Smoking Service

0191 269 1103

County Durham NHS Stop Smoking Service

0800 011 3405

Tees NHS Stop Smoking Service (Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Hartlepool)

01642 383 819


0300 123 1044 (national quitline only)