SHOCK new figures reveal that people in Hartlepool are ignoring health warnings to stop smoking – and are actually choosing to take up the habit.
Despite regularly topping the charts for the number of people quitting smoking in the last decade, it has emerged that the number of people taking up the habit over the last 12 months has rocketed and now almost 25,000 people in town are risking their health and putting pressure on health services by lighting up.
Campaigners had hoped that a high-profile advertising campaign warning people of the dangers of smoking, a price hike on tobacco and supermarkets selling cigarettes from behind shutters would encourage people to stub out for good.
But as it emerged that one town-based drop-in centre set up to help people kick the habit was forced to close because of a lack of interest, figures reveal a hefty rise in the number of people who have started smoking.
Statistics released by the British Heart Foundation show that 27 per cent of town adults – a total of 24,627 – regularly light up.
In 2012, that figure equated to 23.5 per cent, but despite the rise, anti-smoking campaigners insist stop smoking schemes are still working.
Last year, Hartlepool had the top performing Stop Smoking Service in the North-East and one of the best in the country.
A total of 2,874 smokers used the services, run by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, and 1,230 had quit after four weeks.
The year before, 3,444 tried to quit, with 1,428 successfully giving up at four weeks.
Hartlepool’s battle against smoking is led by the town’s Smoke Free Alliance which involves Hartlepool Borough Council, the stop smoking service, hospital trust, health commissioners, anti-smoking group Fresh North East and Healthwatch Hartlepool.
Recent local campaigns focus on getting pregnant women to quit, to prevent children getting hooked, support plain packaging and encourage people to use the town’s eight stop smoking clinics.
One of the clinics which was set up in Owton Manor was closed down when nobody used it.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh North East, urged caution with regard to Hartlepool’s recent rise in smoking.
She said: “I don’t think there should be any panic on the basis of one year’s worth of data. Sometimes it can be put down to a statistical anomaly.
“Hartlepool is doing really good work around tobacco control and there is great support of the Fresh programme about working .
“We have made and continue to see good enforcement around tobacco control and by the local hospitals in identifying smokers and support to stop.
“What we really need to see to make progress in Hartlepool and elsewhere is more government action as quickly as we can to impose plain standardised packaging of tobacco products.
“That will definitely have an impact in reducing the appeal of smoking to young people.”
Ms Rutter added: “When Fresh launched in 2005 the rate for Hartlepool was around 35 per cent so it has gone down significantly.
“But the reality is smoking is still Hartlepool’s biggest killer, and sadly most smokers will have got addicted as a child.”
Anti-smoking chiefs say it is the town’s biggest killer and one in two long-term smokers will die as a result.
The data was released ahead of national No Smoking Day on March 12.
According to Fresh North East, 159 Hartlepool deaths a year are down to smoking along with 1,266 hospital admissions.
Both are higher than the North East and England averages.
Hartlepool smokers cost the NHS as a whole more than £3.5m a year.
HARTLEPOOL holds eight clinics to help people give up smoking and four pharmacies offer support.
Stop smoking service manager Pat Marshall, from the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS trust, said: “If people are thinking about quitting smoking, their best chance of success is to visit one of their local stop smoking sessions.
“We offer friendly and non-judgemental help to smokers at a number of stop smoking clinics held throughout Hartlepool and Stockton. We tailor the support to every individual person.
“Quitting smoking isn’t always easy. People who receive help and support from their local stop smoking service are much more likely to successfully quit and are four times more likely to stay smoke free.
“It is less than a month until stop smoking day. This is a great time for smokers to make a positive change in their lives.
“If people stop smoking, they will soon feel fitter, will save money, will have better skin and teeth and will reduce the risk of any serious smoking related diseases.”
Find out about stop smoking sessions near you at www.nth.nhs.uk/stopsmoking or phone (01642) 383819.
PUBLIC health chiefs say they are committed to reducing smoking in Hartlepool by raising awareness of the damage it does.
Hartlepool Borough Council co-ordinates efforts of the Smoke Free Alliance and is responsible for public health.
A spokesman said: “Good progress has been made in reducing smoking in the North-East and in Hartlepool in recent years.
“However, with 27 per cent of adults in Hartlepool still estimated to smoke regularly, working together with our partner health organisations, including the British Heart Foundation, we remain absolutely committed to reducing smoking rates by raising awareness of the massive damage which smoking does and giving people support and encouragement to quit.
“We were among the first councils to sign up to the national Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control and we are also a partner in the Smokefree Action Coalition.
“We also continue to place a very heavy emphasis on educating children and young people, at school and elsewhere, about the dangers of smoking.”