Here, you'll find a collection of smoking and alcohol news and articles from the last 12 months.

  • Smokers and drinkers staying in hospital to get help quitting or cutting down
  • New Campaign Encourages Alcohol Free Days
  • Do People Living in Colder Climates Drink More?

Smokers and drinkers staying in hospital to get help quitting or cutting down

In a new scheme to be rolled out across England, people admitted to hospital who smoke will be offered quitting support, and those who drink alcohol will also be offered guidance on cutting down their consumption.

The scheme is part of a 10-year plan focused on improving public health outcomes through prevention, being implemented by the Government and NHS England.

What will the scheme involve?

Alcohol Care services are already being offered in a selection of hospitals in London, Bolton, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Portsmouth; but these will be extended to 50 hospitals in England. Initially, the teams will be utilised in those areas with the highest number of alcohol-related admissions.

They, and the teams providing help on quitting smoking, will offer 20-40 minute guidance sessions, as well as bespoke advice on a patient’s individual risk. In these sessions, the teams will provide a mixture of written guidance and counselling.

Why is it being introduced?

Smoking and alcohol misuse are the two largest preventable contributors to early mortality. Both can increase the risk of several types of cancer, lead to heart disease, stroke, and cause a variety of other health issues.

In the last 10 years, hospital admissions related to alcohol misuse have risen by a sixth, and it’s thought that 1 in 10 women still smoke by the time they give birth. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth problems and miscarriage.

Together, health issues related to smoking and alcohol misuse are thought to cost the NHS £6bn a year in resources. So it is hoped that, as well as helping to improve public health outcomes, the scheme will also ease logistic and financial pressures on the NHS: the plan aims to prevent 50,000 admissions over the next five years, and a quarter of a million bed days (single day where a hospital bed is occupied).

How has the plan been received?

Largely positively. It has been welcomed by several bodies, including the Royal College of Physicians and the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership.

Charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) have praised the plan, but expressed disappointment at public funding being cut, which they say has a knock-on effect on existing community stop smoking services.

A spokesperson from the British Medical Association welcomed the schemes, but said that further measures to help prevention, such as minimum pricing units for alcohol, were also required to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse.

How much alcohol is bad for you?

There is no ‘safe limit’ for alcohol; contrary to previous belief, no consumption at all is thought to be more beneficial for physical health than consuming small amounts.

(Read more on how alcohol affects the body.)

However there are lower risk guidelines on consumption, which were set in 2016 by the Chief Medical Officer. These are:

  • no more than 14 units per week
  • with several alcohol-free days each week
  • and people who do drink 14 units in a week should do so over three or more days.

Drinking a lot of alcohol in a single session (binge drinking) greatly increases the risk of injury and alcohol poisoning. This is categorised as drinking more than six units in one sitting.

So drinking less than this, and keeping an eye on the levels you consume generally, will greatly lower the likelihood that you’ll need to be admitted to hospital for an alcohol-related problem.

Where can I get help quitting smoking?

People who are struggling to quit on their own can get help from their local NHS stop smoking service, or their GP.

There are several options available for those looking to give up smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy and prescription smoking cessation. The use of e-cigarettes or ‘vaping’ is also becoming a more widely used method for people who want to quit.  

(Read more about how quitting smoking affects the body.)

New Campaign Encourages Alcohol Free Days

Drinkaware and PHE have launched a campaign, Drink Free Days, to help increase awareness of the benefits of abstaining from alcohol on several days per week.

The online tool published as part of the campaign helps people to see how their drinking compares to the UK population.

Last month, a study published in the Lancet said there was no safe level of alcohol consumption; effectively dispelling for good the widely held notion that a glass of wine a day has certain health benefits.

Who is the campaign aimed at?

People of any age, from 18 and up, will benefit from the recommendations being encouraged by the campaign. But it’s thought that people who drink regularly (as in every day or nearly every day) will stand to benefit the most; and it’s the 45-65 age group who tend to be more habitual daily drinkers.

Data from HSE suggests that people aged 45-64 are more likely than other age groups to be drinking more than 14 units per week.

Professor Julia Verne from Public Health England noted that people in this age group don’t generally consume alcohol every day with the intention to get drunk; that it tends more to be seen among middle-aged people as a social convention, or a reward for a day at work.

Many people had told PHE, Professor Verne also commented, that they found not drinking alcohol on a given day was much easier to do than cutting down (for example replacing a large glass of wine with a small one).

According to a YouGov poll, published earlier this year and backed by PHE and Drinkaware, just under 21 percent of the 8,906 adults surveyed were drinking over the lower risk guidelines of 14 units per week. Around 2 out of 3 people surveyed said they found reducing their alcohol intake harder to do than sticking to a diet, increasing the amount of exercise they do, or quitting smoking.

What are the benefits of alcohol free days?

There are thought to be several, both short and long-term.

For example, when we drink alcohol, it’s the liver’s job to process it. The more someone drinks, the harder their liver has to work. Refraining from drinking alcohol for a whole day gives the liver a chance to recuperate.  

Alcohol, even when consumed in small amounts, can also have a negative impact on sleep. This is because alcohol encourages the body to go into a deep sleep quickly; which means the body will come out of the deeper stages of sleep sooner than it would normally. This disrupts regular sleep patterns, and means that we’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep.

So not drinking alcohol for a day can also help us to avoid this, and facilitate better sleep.

Observing alcohol free days can also help to reduce overall calorie intake. For instance, a pint of beer or a large glass of wine can contain around 200 calories.

(Read more about how many calories different alcoholic drinks contain.)

And of course in the long term, drinking less alcohol can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer.

You can read more about the Drink Free Days campaign here.

Do People Living in Colder Climates Drink More?

A recent study published in Hepatology journal has investigated the long-assumed link between alcohol consumption and living in a colder climate.

It was carried out by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, taking into account data from 193 countries; and the results suggest that there is some inverse correlation between temperature and daylight hours, and litres of alcohol consumed.

How was the study conducted?

The study took data from the World Health Organisation, the World Meteorological Organisation, and the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation.

It analysed:

  • average yearly daylight hours
  • average yearly temperature
  • alcohol consumption data
  • drinking behaviour data
  • health data
  • and alcohol attributable cirrhosis (liver disease).

The study took into account certain variables which might affect the results; such as the presence of viral hepatitis, obesity and tobacco use, which can also affect the liver.

They also factored in lifestyle and cultural facets of warmer countries. For example, some countries in warmer parts of the Middle East were largely Muslim, where alcohol is generally not consumed.

By analysing the data the team was able to establish a negative correlation between specific climate factors (temperature and sunlight hours) and alcohol consumption (measured total alcohol intake per capita, percentage of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking).

The data also seemed to suggest that climate may be linked to the number of incidents for alcoholic liver disease.

What causes the link between climate and alcohol consumption?

From a physical perspective, drinking alcohol can make us feel warmer. This is because the substances in alcohol act as vasodilators and send more blood to the surface of the skin (this is one reason why people may be more prone to facial flushing when drinking alcohol). Therefore whilst your core body temperature is not actually changing, you may feel a little warmer when you drink alcohol.  

But there’s a mental health dimension to this link too. Limited exposure to daylight is also thought to be associated with depression. Fewer daylight hours is the cause of a condition many people experience during winter, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); where shorter days lead to feelings of low mood. And there is an established link between depression with increased alcohol intake. So a consensus has developed that people living in climates with fewer daylight hours are generally more predisposed to excessive alcohol consumption.

The results of this study go even further, and actually establish a link between colder climates and alcohol-related liver disease.

How might the results be used?

An article published on the UPMC site suggested that the result might be used to inform future health policy on tackling binge drinking and alcoholism, and help to focus efforts and resources on particular geographic areas where the risk of alcohol-related disease and cirrhosis was higher.

If you have any concerns that you may be drinking too much, there are resources available that can offer guidance, such as the NHS site, and Drinkaware.