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Swop Fags for Swag Ahead of No Smoking Day
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Thousands of smokers across Northern Ireland were urged (yesterday Wednesday 20 February) to quit the habit and save a packet as the countdown to No Smoking Day on Wednesday 13 March gets underway.

Amazingly quitting a 30-a-day habit could save over £4,000 a year.

One in four adults in Northern Ireland – around 360,000 people aged 16 and over – smokes, and sadly one in every two smokers will die early because of their habit. No Smoking Day provides an excellent focus for local smokers to stop together.

The countdown to No Smoking Day on Wednesday March 13 is underway. Nathan Fitzpatrick (left), from Hilltown, is giving up the habit with the support of Cool FM DJ, marathon runner Sonya Mac, and Eddie Devlin, Hilltown. Nathan and Eddie plan to get healthier by taking part in the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on May 6 – and are going the extra mile to fundraise for the official marathon charity Cancer Focus Northern Ireland (the new name for the Ulster Cancer Foundation). Cancer Focus provides a wide range of services for cancer patients and their families in Northern Ireland

The countdown to No Smoking Day on Wednesday March 13 is underway. Nathan Fitzpatrick (left), from Hilltown, is giving up the habit with the support of Cool FM DJ, marathon runner Sonya Mac, and Eddie Devlin, Hilltown. Nathan and Eddie plan to get healthier by taking part in the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on May 6 – and are going the extra mile to fundraise for the official marathon charity Cancer Focus.

The Public Health Agency (PHA), Cancer Focus Northern Ireland and British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland, who are part of the Northern Ireland No Smoking Day Coordinating Committee*, have joined forces to call on local smokers to ‘swap fags for swag’, count how much cash they could save – and improve their health at the same time.

Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention at Cancer Focus, said: “Research has shown that over two thirds of smokers in Northern Ireland would like to stop. No Smoking Day is one of the best times for smokers to escape their addiction so we are encouraging smokers to think ahead and make Wednesday 13th March 2013 the day that their smoke-free life begins.

“Stopping smoking is the most important thing that you can do to improve your health but it can require commitment and planning. That’s why we at Cancer Focus are working more closely than ever with smokers who want to stop.

“We provide stop smoking support services across Northern Ireland, including the Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008, which are funded by the Public Health Agency and are free and confidential. They are very informal and offer individual and group support.  We talk about smoking habits, tips for giving up and how to cope with cravings, and in the last year helped two-thirds of those who used our services to stop smoking within four weeks.”

Jayne Murray, Public Affairs & Communications Manager, BHF Northern Ireland, said: “One of the biggest incentives for smokers to quit comes from considering the real amount of money they spend on cigarettes and thinking about what they and their family could afford if they were to give up for good.

“By tallying up the exact amount of money that could be saved, smokers can work towards an actual goal – be it a new pair of shoes, a family trip to the cinema or a dream holiday.”

The campaign is now in its 30th year, and this year smokers are being encouraged to focus on what they could afford to buy if they were to quit. With the cost of tobacco products continuing to rise there really isn’t a better time to stop. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day costs on average £4,100.

Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the PHA, said: “Not only does stopping smoking have huge financial benefits, it is also the best change a person can make to improve their overall health.

“The benefits start almost immediately and continue for the rest of your life. After 12 hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, and by five years the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker after five years, while the risk of a stroke risk can drop to that of a non-smoker after two to five years, and after 10 years the risk of lung cancer reduces to half that of a smoker.

“The health benefits of quitting are considerable, and the financial boost means it makes even more sense. The amount of money a 30-a-day smoker could save in just one year would buy nearly 700 cinema tickets, a luxury holiday or a new kitchen.”

The Health Minister, Edwin Poots, added: “The majority of smokers take up the habit whilst still in their teens, therefore my Department remains committed to introducing measures aimed at reducing young people’s access to tobacco.  New laws which will create stricter sanctions against retailers who persistently flout the existing age of sale legislation will be introduced to the Assembly later this year.”

For information and useful tips to stop smoking, log on to the PHA’s ‘Want 2 Stop’ website www.want2stop.info and order a ‘Quit Kit’ free of charge. Alternatively contact the Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008.