Dr Chris’ Work on Smoking Cessation
Dr Chris Steele has done some extensive and groundbreaking work on smoking cessation over the years, and it all started when a patient of his, came to him and asked for help:
“Doctor as you know I’ve recently had a heart attack and the cardiologist told me… I must give up smoking. I’ve tried and tried but I just can’t give up cigarettes for more than a couple of days. Is there anything you can do to help me?”
Most of his medical colleagues, though aware that smoking was causing a lot of illness, were simply telling their patients to give up smoking, but not offering any more practical help in doing so. Smoking is clearly more than a habit, it is an addiction and people were expected to stop smoking on the advice from their doctors, yet they experienced severe withdrawal effects when they tried to stop. After looking into it Dr Chris found that at that time there were very few experts he could turn to for advice, so he decided to learn more about the problem himself.
It was obvious to Dr Chris that smokers needed a friendly expert, so he decided to take up the challenge himself and to become a pioneer in smoking cessation therapy. He led the way in smoking cessation after setting up his world famous ‘Stop Smoking’ clinics in 1978. One of these was at the University Hospital of South Manchester and the other at Wythenshawe Hospital where the North West Lung Centre and Regional Heart Transplant Centre were located. He quickly established these clinics as the busiest in Europe, treating large groups of up to 200 smokers at a time. News of this spread and before long he was being invited to lecture and demonstrate his skills in over 20 countries as far afield as China, Japan and Australia.
TV & Helplines
The successful methods employed at his clinics were then featured in a 3 part ITV programme and Dr. Chris then founded ‘SmokeQuitters’ – which provided stop smoking services for Industry, as many employers became keen to help employees quit smoking by attending his courses. This quickly continued into a training and education tool, when British Telecom asked him to set up a smoking cessation helpline, which became the very successful Smokers Quitline. Dr. Chris has also personally trained an astonishing 6,000 British doctors in the art of helping people to stop smoking. He continues to be in high demand as a public keynote speaker because of his unrivalled experience in the field of smoking-cessation.
Fight to have Nicotine Gum Prescriptions Paid for by the NHS
In 1984, Dr Chris was faced with a professional dilemma concerning the prescribing of nicotine gum (Nicorette) for smokers needing help in giving up their cigarettes.
At that time in the UK, nicotine gum was a prescription only medicine (POM). It was in fact the only POM amongst thousands that could not be prescribed at NHS expense, in other words it was not reimbursable under the medicine system that was in effect at that time in the UK.
A Department of Health committee, known as the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances recommended that Nicorette should not be allowed on NHS prescription, because it decreed that:
“Anti smoking preparations are not regarded as drugs.”
Dr Chris’ view was that nicotine was most certainly a drug and a powerful one at that, and so he prescribed nicotine gum on NHS prescriptions for those motivated smokers who wanted to give up smoking. As a result of “breaking the rules”, Dr. Chris had to face various disciplinary hearings which eventually led to him having to present his case to a Tribunal of Independent Referees. At that tribunal a statement for the Secretary of State for Health read as follows:
“Smoking is a habit it is not a disease or condition even though it may be a contributory cause of, or may aggravate, a disease or condition such as bronchitis, carcinoma of the lung, arteriosclerosis and so on.” The tribunal’s conclusions on the issue:- “Is tobacco dependency a disease?”
Further to that tribunal statement – dated 6 July 1984, (and Dr Chris’ supporters regarded this a vindication), the following additional statements read…
- We find it ought to be considered.
- We find that nicotine prescribed for this purpose has both a pharmacological and a therapeutic effect.
- We find that this method of treatment is the most effective that has so far been evolved.
In 1993, Dr Chris wrote the top-selling book ‘Quit Smoking with the Nicotine Phaseout Programme’.
The book helped smokers to quit the habit with the minimum of withdrawal symptoms from being tobacco-free. Chris understands smokers and the human difficulties involved when trying to ween themselves off cigarettes, he is one of the most successful smoking cessation mentors in the World and yet he makes no outrageous promises and believes that to successfully accomplish the feat people have to truly be motivated and commit to the objective of quitting for good.
When he first started out studying ways to help stop smoking, Chris had an open mind to all new therapies that were being proposed, anything that could improve on some of the earlier AVERSION methods had to be considered… As Chris casts his mind back…
“The attic in my home became the treatment room and I’d have over 2000 stale, mouldy cigarette ends scattered over the treatment room floor, and in that environment patients had to chain-smoke so many cigarettes rapidly, that they eventually succumbed to the combination of the rank, stale environment and over-smoking until they vomited! and then I made them smoke whilst giving them electric shocks. The theory was that the very thought of a cigarette would arouse feelings of nausea and pain. Boy, those early treatments were barbaric!”
Dr Chris continues:
“The first two patients I treated then were Max Beesley Snr. (the father of actor and drummer to Take That) and Benny Van den Burgh (a close friend who worked in the stressful environment of the early Manchester club scene) who was one of the most nicotine-addicted patients I’ve ever treated. The aversion therapy they received stopped them smoking and neither has smoked to this very day!Nowadays, treatments to help you stop are far more acceptable. Most are based on giving you low doses of nicotine, to reduce any cravings whilst you learn to live without cigarettes in your life. In fact today its never been easier to quit!”
If stopping completely is unrealistic for the majority of people who remain as smokers, we believe ‘harm reduction’ could be the best option available – in fact we fervently believe that if alternative methods of dispensing nicotine surpass consumption of traditional tobacco cigarettes in the next decade, then this innovation will have the very real potential to have one of the most positive and dramatic effects on the NHS ever seen.