Public Health England has revealed that more than 11,850 smokers across the North East signed up to take part in Stoptober, the country’s 28-day mass quitting challenge.
They joined over 215,000 people around the country, reflecting latest figures which show substantial reductions in smoking over the last 30 years.
The latest official figures show rates across England have fallen dramatically since the mid 80s, from a third of the population in 1985 to less than a fifth now (18 per cent), meaning there are 37 per cent fewer smokers than 30 years ago.
The significant decline in smoking can also be seen in the reduction in the number of households that include a smoker, from half in 1985, to 21 per cent in 2013.
Since 1985, there have been many changes both in attitudes and introduced through legislation, for example, tobacco advertising is no longer allowed, work and public places are smokefree and tobacco displays must be covered up in all shops.
However, there are still around eight million smokers in England and smoking causes almost 80,000 deaths per year. Treating smoking-related diseases is estimated to cost the NHS £2billion each year.
Gemma Jones, a 42-year-old care coordinator at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, from Alnwick, quit smoking as part of this year’s Stoptober campaign. She started smoking at 15 and, despite numerous quit attempts over the last 27 years, she was smoking around 20 a day before she signed up to Stoptober.
She said: "I'd tried everything to quit - gum, patches, inhalers, cold turkey - but nothing had worked. I knew I had to keep trying and I really wanted to give it another go so I got in touch with my local stop smoking service. I’ve never done that before and the support has been excellent.
"Smoking made me feel rubbish, I was really unfit and would get out of breath easily. After a month off the cigarettes I feel so much better already. I have more energy, I don’t get out of breath and I generally feel healthier.
"The support from the stop smoking advisors has been so helpful in terms of giving advice about changing routines which I'd usually associate with smoking.
"My two teenage children and the rest of my family have also been very encouraging. They’ve seen me try to quit quite a few times over the years so I think they are wary as to whether I will last this time, but I’m confident that this time it will be long-term. If someone offered me a cigarette now I wouldn’t be interested."
Claire Sullivan, deputy director for health and wellbeing at PHE North East, said: “Our campaigns are designed to help people quit so it is fantastic to see that so many people took part in this year's Stoptober campaign and benefitted from more personal support than ever before.
"We're making considerable progress towards a smokefree nation, but smoking remains the biggest cause of health inequalities, with the harm hitting hardest in our most deprived communities.
"There's still more to do and we must continue to help smokers across England to quit for good. There is plenty of help and support available online or from local stop smoking services."
Martyn Willmore, performance improvement delivery manager at Fresh – Smoke Free North East, the region`s dedicated tobacco control office, said: "We welcome these figures from the Stoptober 2015 campaign, which we have supported, along with our local colleagues.
"This proves once again that many North East smokers are prepared to give quitting a go, and we must do all we can through campaigns such as Stoptober to encourage smokers to take the most positive step they can to improve their health.
"Recent figures show that smoking rates in the North East have fallen below 20 per cent, but we must continue to do more as we strive to make the North East the first smokefree region in England.”
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "Good luck to anyone who wishes to quit smoking. It's important to remember, however, that millions of adults choose to smoke and a great many enjoy smoking and don't want to stop.
"We're not against initiatives like Stoptober, but tobacco is a legal product and an adult's decision to smoke must be respected. Smoking cessation must be based on choice not coercion or social engineering."
Research shows that by stopping smoking for 28 days, you are five times more likely to stop for good. Stoptober has finished, but there is still plenty of free advice available, including links to local stop smoking services. Visit http://www.nhs.uk/smokefree