Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 36 37

Emma Walker is stop smoking programme manager at Newham PCT

The most ethnically diverse borough in the country provides some of the most complex challenges for anyone whose job is encouraging people to give up smoking.

Emma Walker moved back to her native Newham in east London to take on precisely that challenge, having worked with smoking-cessation services in Birmingham.

And in an attempt to get the message across to some of the hardest to reach sections of the community, Emma has been discussing taking the anti-smoking campaign directly into five local mosques. She has been talking to a local imam and looking at ways to encourage staff at mosques to act as smoking-cessation advisers to worshippers.

The fact that 45 per cent of Bangladeshi men in Newham are smokers, as are 33 per cent of Pakistani men, reinforces the need to enlist the help of religious groups.

A peculiar quirk in the statistics is that the average rate of smoking in Newham is actually lower than the UK as a whole, and significantly lower than London's.

Twenty-five per cent of Newham residents smoke, compared with 29-30 per cent across the capital, and 26-27 per cent in the rest of the country.

These figures offer an insight into the sensitivities needed to encourage people from Newham's many different communities to quit. For while many Bangladeshi men are smokers, only around 1 per cent of Bangladeshi women smoke.

Emma is aware that her job could have been easier in a leafy suburb, but she says the different problems she faces are part of the attraction.

'It is probably 20-25 per cent more difficult in somewhere like Newham than in other parts of the country, ' she says. 'And it is definitely harder for some groups to access stop-smoking services.' She hopes her discussions with the Imam, and the eventual work in mosques which should start at the beginning of next year, will be a 'springboard' for similarly innovative attempts to reach other communities.

'One solution will not work for every group. It will not be a religious group necessarily, but community volunteers are often on the same wavelength as people in the community. We need to decide whether to use other faith groups, or how to approach it.' It is this opportunity to really make a difference in one of the country's poorest areas that is what drives Emma's enjoyment of her job.

'We can have a major impact on health and quality of life, by encouraging people to stop smoking, ' she says, 'as well as help to reduce health inequality'.