They are the friendly faces we turn to at moments we are at our wits end for quick advice on persistent coughs, body ailments and the odd rash.

So it's only natural, that the people often at the frontlines of illness, before we to the doctor rooms, are the one also at the forefront of a campaign to help people stop smoking.

Jackie Maimin (crt), acting CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA), explained that community pharmacies across South Africa have committed their support – this stop-smoking awareness month – to participating in the World Health Organisations’ (WHO) anti-tobacco initiative “Pharmacists Against Tobacco”.

This, in order to alert smokers to the benefits of stopping smoking and to help them take the needed action to eliminate tobacco use.

“Pharmacists are medication experts who are active in patient counseling, medication therapy, monitoring, identifying and solving medicine-related problems. They are in pharmacies across South Africa, many of which are open for extended hours, making them ideally placed to advise people on how to stop smoking,” Maimin said in a statement.

Participating community pharmacists will be raising awareness around the dangers of tobacco smoke and the health benefits of stopping smoking during the month of May with the hope that they can encourage as many smokers as possible to go completely smoke-free for 24 hours on May 31, World No Tobacco Day.

In preparation for May 31, pharmacists will be able to assess the nicotine dependence of smokers – this is a predictor of the severity of nicotine withdrawal and the need for nicotine replacement therapy.

They will be able to give smokers behaviour change techniques endorsed by WHO which increase a smoker’s chance of successfully quitting. Most of all they will be able to support and encourage a smoker to set a quit date. Although giving up smoking is one of the hardest addictions to tackle, it is possible and anyone, with the right help, can do it.

“Smokers who ditch the habit will be surprised by how much their health improves in a short time – in fact after only 20 minutes without a cigarette, blood pressure and pulse start to drop and after eight hours blood oxygen levels return to normal levels. After 24 hours without a cigarette, carbon monoxide leaves the body and lungs start to clear out mucous and debris,” Maimin added.

The ICPA highlights a few reasons why you should quit smoking:

- Cigarettes contain arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and 43 known carcinogens.

– Nearly 8 out of 10 COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or emphysema) deaths are a result of smoking and currently there is no cure for COPD.

- The chance that a lifelong smoker will die prematurely from a complication of smoking is about 50 percent.

– In South Africa, tobacco smoking ranks third highest as a mortality risk factor- accounting for approximately 44 000 deaths every year in South Africa.

– Smoking has been found to harm nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health.

– Being exposed to second hand smoke slows the growth of children’s lungs and can cause them to cough, wheeze, and feel breathless.

– Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer. It causes cancers of the lung, oesophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia.