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Five steps to curbing cigarette consumption

(Vienna, 30 May 2016) Experts estimate that between 11,000 and 14,000 Austrians a year die as a result of smoking. Around 700,000 people in Austria are heavily nicotine-dependent. Cigarette consumption can be curbed relatively easily following a five-step approach. This was the message given by experts from MedUni Vienna, on the occasion of World No Smoking Day on 31 May 2016. Their demands and proposals range from increasing the price of cigarettes and redoubling efforts to combat cigarette smuggling to extending the provision of smoking cessation therapies.

"A price increase of just 1% above inflation on each pack of cigarettes would result in a 0.5% drop in cigarette consumption. That is the most effective method of permanently reducing consumption across the board. This has been clearly proven by scientific studies conducted at MedUni Vienna," explains Michael Kunze from the Institute for Social Medicine within MedUni Vienna's Center for Public Health. A price increase would particularly deter young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

They are also calling for greater efforts to combat cigarette smuggling. Kunze: "Price increases make the illegal trade even more attractive. We have to accept this fact and take stringent measures to counteract it." We should not hesitate to impose the urgently required stricter and proactive price policy just because we are afraid it will trigger an increase in smuggling. Other steps to curb cigarette consumption are: extending the provision of smoking cessation therapies, rapid and strict implementation of smoking restrictions in restaurants and workplaces and the authorization of much less dangerous alternatives as a nicotine replacement therapy – such as is the norm in Scandinavia – and similar to the methadone programme for heroin addicts.

Call for better therapy provision
It has also been clinically proven that beneficial effects can be perceived very soon after quitting: “Just a few days after the last cigarette, the risk of cardiovascular disease falls rapidly. Smoking is almost the same as carbon monoxide poisoning so, if you stop, you stop poisoning yourself," says Kunze. However, the cancer risk continues to be elevated for several years. Around 90% of all deaths from lung cancer are caused by smoking and the same applies to 75% of deaths from chronic bronchitis.

"Heavily addicted" people, in particular – that is to say those who are compelled to smoke last thing at night before cleaning their teeth, before breakfast or in the aircraft toilet – need support to help them quit.

"However, there is only limited provision of comprehensive and structured therapies," Kunze points out. "Smokers who want to quit should have rapid access to professional help close to where they live. We need to increase funding to institutions that deal with this particular area." MedUni Vienna has itself collaborated with the health insurers to develop the 5-week out-patient smokers’ counselling programme. The help that is offers consists of a combination of psychological and drug therapy, should this be required.