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Interview with Dr Chris Streather on achieving Smokefree 2030

Interview with Dr Chris Streather, Regional Medical Director for London

Dr Chris Streather, Regional Medical Director for London is fully invested in making the capital Smokefree by 2030 and believes any time devoted to talking about why it is important – and achievable – is beyond worthwhile.

The challenge and taking a biphasic approach

The challenge is to ensure its place as a top public health priority and is not downgraded due to competing demands.

It’s really important to talk about the immediate benefits of giving up – Dr Streather talks of a biphasic approach.

“If smokers give up this winter their chances of having a stroke, heart attack or serious respiratory infection is greatly reduced.

“Tangible results, both physically and financially, would be realised almost straight away. It would also ease the burden on the NHS, with up to a quarter of hospital admissions being tobacco related.”

The second phase in realising a decline in serious disease, such as cancer, will take more time but ultimately Londoners would be healthier and live longer.

You can achieve big audacious goals

In tackling what many would deem impossible, Dr Streather drew parallels with previous public health crises, saying: “People would’ve thought living with HIV and almost eliminating MRSA 20-25 years ago was a pipe dream.

“You can achieve big audacious goals – it’s the right thing to do for the people we serve.

“Converting the last ten percent is always going to be more difficult.

“We need to work harder to reach people and ‘make every contact count’. Whether a nurse, doctor, physio – whoever sees someone in a clinical setting – they should always take the opportunity to ask if they smoke and put them in touch with support. It takes seconds and being busy is no excuse.”

Maintaining focus on reducing inequalities

“We need a concerted effort in the most deprived populations where smoking prevalence is high and people are sustaining more harm from tobacco.

“We can’t be high handed. We need to relate with communities, get involved with local faith groups, football clubs and similar. This will have more influence than a paternalistic approach.”

It’s all about encouraging quit attempts

“Tackling addiction isn’t easy, but failing is no bad thing, it’s all about trying. The next quit attempt is more likely to lead to success.”

Every existing cigarette smoker should have access to smoking cessation advice. Vapes are unequivocally much less harmful than cigarettes which is why he sees vaping as a ‘bridge to giving up’.

“We’re actively encouraging those struggling with nicotine addiction to switch to vaping – chest infections and lung cancer rates go down straight away.”

Download our Communications Toolkit to help smokers switch to vaping

Vaping is not recommended as a long-term solution but as a step down for cigarette smoking adults only. The more smokers who switch, the closer we are to the panacea of Smokefree 2030.

Dr Streather is confident that the coming together of charities, the voluntary sector, local government, the mayor’s office, public health, and the health service will enable a legacy for London.

In the meantime, he would like to see vanishingly few new starters and to decimate smoking in pregnancy – “do those two things and you’re banking a lot of good for the future”.

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