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Smoking and giving up

We all know the damage smoking does, but it's still a big habit in the UK. But if you want to give up, there's lots of help available.

The law on buying and selling tobacco

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 in England and Wales to be sold cigarettes (or other products like roll-up tobacco and cigars) over the counter or at a vending machine.

This is to try to stop people starting to smoke as teenagers. It's been estimated that people who start smoking at 15 are three times more likely to die from cancer than someone who starts in their twenties.

Smoking in public places

It's now against the law to smoke in almost every enclosed public space in the UK. This includes:

  • cafes and restaurants
  • shopping centres
  • railway stations

Why start smoking?

Even though we all know about the health risks connected to smoking, thousands of people decide to start every year - and a large number of adults who carry on smoking say that they started when they were under 16.

You may be pressured into starting by some of your friends, you may want to copy older relatives who smoke or you may just be curious about what it's like. Whatever sort of pressure you're put under, it's a lot easier to say no than taking up the habit and trying to give up after years of regular smoking.

It also costs a lot of money. If you get through ten cigarettes a day, it costs over £1,200 every year. Think of all the stuff you could buy with that money!

The health risks

People who smoke regularly are more likely to develop certain illnesses when they get older. These include lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. It can also reduce fertility.

Although nicotine is the thing that makes cigarettes addictive, it's the other chemicals that damage your health.

There are also other physical effects of smoking that happen no matter how old you are, including:

  • damaged tastebuds
  • ageing of the skin
  • stained teeth
  • smelly clothes

Although not killers, they're not exactly pleasant.

Smoking myths

A lot of people put off giving up because they've heard of the side effects. In fact most of these don't have any truth behind them:

  • cigarettes don't make you relaxed; in fact, smoking actually speeds up your heart rate
  • giving up doesn't mean you'll put on lots of weight; you may start eating more when you're giving up, but a couple of extra pounds is a lot healthier than continuing to smoke
  • you might think that you'll give up when you're a bit older, but the longer you carry on smoking, the harder it will be to quit
  • the only way smoking makes you look older is by giving you wrinkles at an early age

Ways to give up

If you've decided to kick the smoking habit, there are a number of things you can do that can make giving up a little easier.

Help over the phone

The National Health Service (NHS) runs a smoking helpline that helps thousands of people quit every year. The helpline can give you advice if you're finding giving up tough and has details of support groups in your area that you might want to join. The number is 0800 169 0 169, all calls are free and it's open from 7.00 am to 11.00 pm.

Patches and gum

Cigarette patches work by releasing a slow stream of nicotine into your blood that stops your craving while you get out of the habit of lighting up. Wearing a patch or chewing gum can help you get over your cravings, but it won't damage your health in the way cigarettes do. There are different types available depending on how many you smoke every day.

You can also get chewing gum that releases nicotine into your body through the lining of your mouth.

You can buy patches and gum from most chemists, or your doctor may be able to write you a prescription.

Always check with your doctor before you start using any nicotine replacement products.

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