2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Forget July 4, Phil Hammond says the new independence day is on July 1 when cigarettes are banned in public

Hats off to Allen Carr, the former accountant who helped millions quit smoking before succumbing to lung cancer, aged 72.

He had his first cigarette at 16 and by middle age was getting through 100 a day. He stopped in 1983 but sadly was still exposed to the poison of cigarettes because he spent hours in smoke-filled rooms helping others kick the habit. This selfless act, as much as smoking, may have caused his cancer.

I know two doctors who gave up smoking thanks to Carr's explanation that smoking is a very expensive con trick. Fags don't give you a boost or calm your nerves; they merely relieve the withdrawal symptoms caused by the nicotine in the previous cigarette. Fags cause stress, rather than relieve it. So what's the point?

You'll only stop smoking if you want to, and if you really want to then you could manage it by will-power alone. Set a date, tell everyone, throw out fags, ashtrays and lighters, prepare for a really bad 24 hours followed by a cranky two weeks, put the money you save into a jar and pamper yourself.

If only it were that simple. Nicotine is what hooks you but it's all the poisons in tar that kill you. Nicotine replacement therapy, which comes in a choice of gum, spray, patch, tablet, lozenge and inhaler, has been shown to double your chances of quitting. Zyban, the drug, also doubles your chances of quitting by reducing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. But not everyone can take it and it's only available on prescription.

Also only available on prescription is Champix, a new drug which binds to nicotine receptors in the brain, stimulating them a little bit but blocking further stimulation from cigarettes. This should mean that withdrawal symptoms are reduced and so is the urge to smoke because it has no effect.

The manufacturers claim it's better than Zyban, with fewer side effects or drug interactions. It sounds too good to be true but the prestigious Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group at Oxford University reckons it triples your chances of giving up. So, if you didn't manage to give up over New Year, you've got until July 1 before the public smoking ban comes in and you become a social leper.

On the plus side, there are loads of people to help you. Your GP can direct you to local smoking cessation clinics. Visit www.quit.org.uk or phone 0800 002200. Or, if you're like my ex-smoking doctors, you can buy Allen Carr's Easy Way To Stop Smoking. Good luck

Dr Phil Hammond is a GP and chair of governors at a primary school in Somerset

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