In January 2003 I announced my intention to prohibit smoking in all places of work, including licensed premises. These new arrangements presented a major challenge to the health system in terms of the likely increase in the demand for smoking cessation services. My Department's health promotion unit recognised that it needed to ensure that there was an effective and consistent national response to smokers wishing toquit.
A national steering committee with representatives from the health boards, the Health Boards Executive, the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, ASH Ireland, the Office of Tobacco Control, the Irish College of General Practice, the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the Irish Dental Federation were charged with adopting a strategic and co-ordinated approach to supporting and delivering smoking cessation services nationally in the form of a national smoking cessation action plan.
The specific objectives included developing a national network of partners in the area of smoking cessation, agreeing an approach that reflects evidence of best practice in the delivery of smoking cessation services and co-ordinating activity and materials by all partners in the area of smoking cessation.
The Every Cigarette is Doing you Damage advertisement campaign, developed in Australia and now used by more than 50 countries worldwide, including Northern Ireland. The advertisement while graphic in its detail is factual in its approach. It serves as a reminder of the dangers from smoking and the actual affect smoking has on a smoker's body.
The advertising campaign is hard hitting and had a high profile when it was transmitted on television, radio, print media and outdoor poster sites. It brought home the stark realities of smoking in a memorable and meaningful way. Balanced with this, the campaign advised people of the support they can access to quit smoking through the new national smokers quitline.
I launched the national smokers quitline together with the media campaign on 30 October 2003. The service can be accessed every day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Smokers who ring the call save number have the option of availing of on-line counselling by trained staff, being referred for professional help in their own local area or simply having an information pack sent to them by post.
Regionally smoking cessation services were streamlined and co-ordinated to ensure that no matter where a client was calling from they could expect to access a smoking cessation service locally if required. To date the capacity in the boards has been more than adequate to cope with the demand. It is envisaged that when I announce the date of the ban a greater demand will be placed on smoking cessation services. I am confident that the enhanced services will cope with the increased demand.
To date over 11,000 callers have used the quitline. Half of the callers have received a booklet that contains tips and information to encourage them to quit.
An evaluation of the campaign established that 83% of the population have seen the advertisements. As much as 64% stated that they felt that they were very or extremely effective and 65% of the sample said the advertisements would prompt them to consider quitting.