Stoptober – Impact of smoking on MS and how your community pharmacy can help

Keith Robson, MS Society Scotland (Guest Blog)

Monday, October 1, 2018

This October Public Health England are running a campaign to help people to stop smoking. Whilst there isn’t a comparable campaign run in Scotland during the month of October we’re pleased to work with Community Pharmacy Scotland to direct people towards services to help you stop smoking. Your local pharmacy can play a big role in supporting you if you wish to stop smoking.

Links between smoking and MS

We have recently commissioned research to look at the impact of smoking on people with MS. Studies show smoking can speed up how fast you become disabled. People with MS who smoke can see their MS develop from relapsing remitting MS to secondary progressive MS earlier than people who don’t smoke.

We all know that smoking can affect your general health in many ways. And there’s evidence to show smoking can make you up to 50% more likely to get MS compared to people who don’t smoke. Studies also show that quitting smoking can have real benefits. In one study people who quit smoking developed secondary progressive MS up to eight years later than people who didn't.

Smoking may also make it harder for your body to recover from relapses. Disease modifying therapies (DMTs) can be very important in managing relapses and underlying damage caused by MS.

But a DMT won’t protect you against the harm from smoking. Smokers have more relapses than non-smokers who take the same DMTs.

Studies have shown that at least two DMTs are less effective in stopping relapses in people who smoke. These are the beta-interferon treatments (Avonex, Rebif, Plegridy, Betaferon and Extavia) and natizilumab (Tysabri).

Many people find vaping helps them quit smoking and it may be better for your general health than smoking tobacco.

Studies show nicotine in cigarettes doesn't to be seem responsible for the increased risk of MS. Some studies show vapour from e-cigarettes with no nicotine still caused damage to cells, including cells that protect the brain. Damage to these cells is something you see in MS.

More research needs to be done, but evidence so far suggests vaping isn’t a good alternative to smoking for people with MS.

Seeking support to stop smoking

We know that giving up smoking is not easy and that it is best done with some support. Your local pharmacist will be able to talk to you about how best they can support you to stop smoking. Community pharmacies offer a stop smoking service where you can receive support in your local pharmacy throughout the first 12 weeks of you stopping smoking. People in Scotland are more likely to be successful when they quit smoking if they combine professional support like this with stop smoking medications than if they go it alone. That’s why 70% of all supported quit attempts are made through pharmacy services!

Alternatively you can call Quit Your Way Scotland on 0800 84 84 84 to talk to a trained advisor. The Helpline is open Monday to Friday 8am to 10pm and Saturday & Sunday 9am to 5pm. You can also choose to chat online with a trained advisor.

Further Information

Go to our website for further information on MS and Smoking

Our MS Helpline advisors are on hand to take your call on 0808 800 800 It is a Freephone number and the Helpline is open Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm (except bank holidays).

Keith Robson
Policy, Public Affairs & Campaigns Manager
MS Society Scotland