Gail Barden offers support and advice to help smokers quit. Gail is part of the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study which is testing new ways to help people quit for good. The study runs alongside the Leeds Lung Health Check, a multimillion-pound clinical trial, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, which provides life-saving scans designed to find lung cancer at the earliest possible stage.
We spoke to Gail about what a typical day looks like for a stop smoking practitioner, how the service provided through the study works and why it is so important for people in Yorkshire.
Gail Barden spends her days on the Leeds Lung Health Check mobile unit, providing people attending their scans with support to help them stop smoking.
“We offer a unique non-judgemental and tailored service. We work with the individual to decide what is achievable and how best to alter their smoking patterns and ultimately encourage and motivate them to quit for good,” she explains.
A consultation takes place during the initial screening appointment on the mobile unit and is followed up with 12 weeks of personal support. This includes telephone calls, home visits and the provision of stop smoking aids through the post.
“Once someone has made that commitment to stop smoking, we want to make it as easy and smooth for them as possible.”
Gail knows that quitting smoking is a difficult task, especially for those who have smoked for many years, but she is committed to giving people the best support possible to see them reach their target quit date.
“Most of the people we help have had a lifelong addiction to tobacco and it can be quite challenging for them to make changes, but with our specialist training and ‘gold standard’ support we can work alongside them to make these difficult changes become achievable.”
The health benefits of stopping smoking start almost immediately with a drop in heart rate and blood pressure. The risk of heart attack halves after one year.
Within five years there are significant reductions in the risk of developing cancer of the lungs, throat, mouth, oesophagus, and bladder, compared to those who continue to smoke. After 10 years, the risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of someone who continues to smoke.
When a smoker successfully quits, there are also a whole range of benefits for their family and friends. For example, not exposing children to second-hand smoke reduces their risk of asthma, ear infections, future heart disease and lung, breast and cervical cancer. For those with mental health conditions, stopping smoking can be as effective as antidepressants and may result in needing lower doses of medication.
Each person is different, and Gail makes sure that every individual gets what works best for them. This means that stop smoking practitioners offer a wide variety of stop smoking aids. These include various products containing nicotine which are designed to manage cravings, including vaping products, patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray and inhalators. The practitioners also offer Champix, which is a stop smoking medication designed to reduce cravings for nicotine.
“All of our treatments are evidence based, proven to help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. We use these alongside behavioural support.”
She has found that there are many misconceptions about the use of vaping products to help them quit smoking, and many are reluctant to try them. Vaping is far less harmful than smoking, and part of Gail’s role is explaining the benefits of switching to a vaping device.
Vaping can be a key first point on the stop smoking journey and often enables people to quit entirely.
She has found that often, once people give vaping a try, they wonder why they hadn’t tried it earlier.
“I think people take to vaping really well because it’s the closest thing that replicates smoking. It’s the ritual of using the vape, holding it in their hand. Once people have the chance to make that change, many people really embrace it as a stop smoking aid.”
Gail has worked in the role of stop smoking practitioner for the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study for more than two years. Previously she has worked as part of Bradford Council’s stop smoking advice service, and alongside midwives to help pregnant women quit smoking.
She is now working as part of a wide clinical trial team involved in the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study and Leeds Lung Health Check, including stop smoking practitioners, research nurses, radiographers, and university researchers.
The Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study is led by Professor Rachael Murray at the University of Nottingham, who is aiming to discover how best to run stop smoking support alongside lung health check services. It tests whether people can be encouraged to stop smoking by giving them pictures from their own lung scans, showing possible lung and heart damage.
“I feel humbled to be part of a team that can make such a positive impact on people’s lives, not just in the present, but for the future too.”
After the 12-week programme is complete, Gail often continues to hear from the people she has helped. It is these successful cases that remind her how important her work is, and the difference stop smoking support can make to an individual’s life.
She said: “I supported a lady who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and she contacted me recently saying how grateful she was for the advice and support given to her by the stop smoking practitioners. Since quitting she has a better quality of life and much better health, and hearing from patients like that is really rewarding.”
She added: “The work that Yorkshire Cancer Research is funding, like the Leeds Lung Health Check and Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, is vital. You can see how much of a difference it makes to our patients. We are able to support people who wouldn’t typically access stop smoking services, and as a result improve the health of people in Yorkshire. Our work is saving lives.”