Back to Basics: Help your customers kick the smoking habit

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smoking ban, Smoking, Nicotine

Love it or loathe it, the smoking ban is here to stay. Outside space and patio heaters can go some way towards keeping puffing customers coming...

Love it or loathe it, the smoking ban is here to stay. Outside space and patio heaters can go some way towards keeping puffing customers coming through your doors. But why not go to the source of the problem and help them kick the habit?

A whopping 70 per cent of smokers say they want to give up and you could be in a position to help them. The business benefits are also clear - it's easier to sustain a good atmosphere inside a pub when people aren't dashing outside for a drag every five minutes and neighbours are less likely to complain about noise.

So what resources are available to licensees who want to help their smoking customers quit?

Health services

The NHS runs free stop-smoking services around the country that can provide you with posters and leaflets, or even set up a drop-in clinic for your customers.The first port of call should be your local primary care trust (PCT), as stop-smoking services are handled regionally. Details of your nearest service can be found on www.gosmokefree.nhs.uk

One licensee to make use of this is Stuart Janes of the King's Head Hotel in Beccles, Suffolk, who enrolled the services of a smoking specialist last March to help his regulars prepare for the ban.

Health professionals came to the pub to offer customers support and advice and prescribe nicotine replacement therapies at a series of free clinics.

"When the smoking ban was on the horizon everyone was being very negative and I thought about what we could do that would be a bit more positive," says Stuart. "So we linked up with the NHS and had a stop smoking liaison officer come in and hold clinics.

"I used to smoke 30 a day and I know a lot of giving up smoking is about encouragement."

And if you don't want to bring the professionals in, you could set up your own informal group to swap hints and tips and discuss quitting efforts.

Merchandise

NHS posters and leaflets may drive the no-smoking message home but some licensees feel they dampen the pub atmosphere. You can get round this by limiting posters to the toilets or using alternative ways of alerting people to local services.

Nottinghamshire and North Somerset PCTs are among several health bodies that have been distributing beermats carrying no-smoking messages to pubs.

In both cases, winter-themed mats were created to encourage smokers back in from the cold and alert people to free local no-smoking services.

Linda Hoskyns, head of Nottinghamshire's stop smoking service New Leaf, says the campaign has been really successful and the organisation hopes to follow it up with something new for the spring.

"The feedback we've had has been great," she says. "It's really nice to be giving something to pubs other than just warnings."

New Leaf's beermats are only available to pubs in Nottinghamshire, but Hoskyns urges licensees in other areas to contact their local PCT.

"If pubs asked I'm sure other PCTs would be happy to help in any way they could. We are always keen to work with licensees," she says.

Competitions

Stop smoking charity Quit is running a competition to find the European Smoke Free Quitter of the Year 2008. As well as the grandiose title, the winner will be given holiday vouchers worth £15,000.

Alert your customers to this and one of them could be travelling to Amsterdam for the awards ceremony in October.

But why not hold your own competition to find a local champion quitter? No Smoking Day 2008 on March 12 provides the perfect excuse for a contest or sponsored quit attempt by staff and customers.

Quit also recommends beefing up your entertainment to discourage customers going outside for a smoke and distract quitters from their cravings. Darts, cards, dominoes and pool can all help occupy those fidgeting fingers.

Alternatives

We all know about nicotine patches and gum, but the latest product aimed at helping your customers cut back on tobacco is the electronic cigarette.

E-cigarette and its competitor Supersmoker look and feel like real cigarettes but contain no tar or cancerous substances, according to suppliers. Crucially, they are legal to use in public spaces.

The device works by fitting a nicotine cartridge into a rechargeable piece of hardware that glows as if it's burning and even produces a mist.

Gregory Carson, managing director of Victory Catering Supplies, one of the UK suppliers of electronic cigarettes, says the product started out as a 'gizmo' but has developed a serious function. "The cartridges come in four different strengths so over the space of, say, six to-- nine months, someone could cut down their nicotine intake and wean themselves off smoking," he explains.

Business development manager for electronic cigarette SuperSmoker Damian Fearnley believes this could be a "massive" business opportunity for pubs. He adds that one of the biggest casino chains in Europe is trialling the device in its outlets.

Another - more old school - cigarette substitute is snuff. Traditionally associated with the aristocracy, snuff has seen a recent surge in popularity. It can provide your customers with their nicotine fix without sending them out into the cold and offers an alternative to going cold-turkey.

Paul Waters of the Star Inn in Bath, Somerset, has been offering customers free snuff with their drinks for a long time. Since the smoking ban he has started selling it too."A lot of youngsters use it and it's a great talking point," he says. "It's much cheaper than cigarettes, too - tins range from £1 to £2 and will last you for weeks. The amount we have been through since the ban is incredible."

But does it help you quit smoking? "Definitely so," says Paul. "I've got two barstaff who use it. One has completely given up and the other smokes much less than before."While nicotine replacement therapies can be helpful they still come with a health warning. Cancer Risk UK says snuff can pose a danger to your health and points out that nicotine is addictive, whatever form it comes in.

• For more tips on giving up smoking, visit www.gosmokefree.nhs.uk or www.quit.org.uk

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