We all have a stake in helping people to quit smoking, because the chances are that each of us knows and cares about someone who smokes. Even though smoking is less widespread than it used to be, roughly one in five of us still smoke. We know we want to bring that number down and one of the things that most excites me about Stoptober - next month's nationwide 28 day stop smoking challenge - is that it gives us all a practical way to help.
We're getting more and more evidence of the benefits of stopping: a full week of life for every 28 days without smoking, according to the data. There are many other benefits to stopping, of course, and you may find you notice some of them more quickly than you'd thought. For example, after 48 hours, there's no nicotine in the body, which should improve your ability to taste and smell. After 72 hours, breathing becomes easier and coughs, wheezing and breathing problems improve three to nine months after quitting. The longer you stay smokefree, the more dramatic the health benefits are: after five years, your risk of heart attacks falls to about half that of a smoker's - and after ten years, it's the same as that of someone who has never smoked.
But there's more to stopping than statistics. Stopping can be tough. We know that most smokers would like to try but far fewer actually have a go. If you haven't been there yourself, it's hard to imagine just how difficult it can be. However, judging from the success of last year's stop smoking campaign, here's what can make it more achievable.
First, be part of something big. Use Facebook and Twitter during Stoptober to share your highs and lows with others who are going through the same thing, as well as get a morale boost from friends, family and well-wishers you don't even know. Last year, 50,000 fans joined the Stoptober Facebook page: that's like having half of Wembley stadium cheering you on. During Stoptober, there are events to turn up to, celebrities taking part and with roadshows across dozens of cities it's a great excuse for a party, now that the summer is over. For smokers who prefer to stop without the world knowing, there are tips and encouragement through one-on-one messages. Whatever your style, there's support on hand.
Second, set yourself concrete, achievable goals by breaking things down into manageable chunks. Achieving 28 days without smoking is more manageable than making a life-long commitment. But the beauty of it is that sticking with it for a month gives you a much better chance of giving up for good and all of our free support is designed to support you on a day-by-day basis - helping you to get to day 28. In fact, research shows you're five times more likely to stay smokefree if you've been able to stop for 28 days* . One of those first steps that's more of a giant leap.
Third, think positive. We know these challenges can work because we've got last year's success on which to build. Having a start date for stopping helps. Sustained momentum is also key: the campaign helped more than 160,000 smokers to complete the Stoptober challenge last year. That's over 160,000 people who seized the opportunity to lead longer and healthier lives, not to mention the savings they racked up - around £150 per month for the average smoker** - and the satisfaction of achieving the goal they'd set themselves.
So what are my hopes for this year's Stoptober? I'd like to believe that every smoker in England and Wales can think about stopping, knowing that, if they do, we're all of us behind them, every step of the way.
* R West and J Stapleton entitled 'Clinical and public health significance of treatments to aid smoking cessation', (Eur Respir Rev 2008; 17: 110, 199-204).
** Based on £7.77 for a packet of cigarettes (Office of National Statistics, May 2013) and an average daily consumption of 13 manufactured cigarettes per smoker (2011 General Lifestyle Survey).