A RETIRED North-East scientist believes that Chinese herbal medicine patches could help thousands of smokers who are expected to try to quit this year.

With a smoking ban in all enclosed public places due to come into force on July 1, health experts believe large numbers of people will take the opportunity to give up smoking.

Dr Philip Cheung, former director of Durham University's Centre for Comparative Public Health, believes UK officials need to investigate claims that herbal patches have helped more than a million Chinese smokers quit.

Four years ago, Dr Cheung supervised research in China by a Durham University postgraduate that showed Chinese herbal medicine patches have a far greater success rate than conventional nicotine replacement patches used in the UK.

Dr Cheung's findings, exclusively revealed in The Northern Echo, showed that after a course of treatment lasting nine days and costing £18 per person, 25 out of 49 smokers - nearly 52 per cent - gave up.

Another 17 managed to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoked.

After three months, 21 out of the 25 were still not smoking.

The fact that 84 per cent of those who gave up were still not smoking after three months means that the success rate of Chinese herbal patches compares well with the 30 per cent success rate of nicotine replacement patches.

Crucially, instead of taking six weeks to work like English patches, the Chinese version take a matter of days.

However, they only seemed to work with younger smokers.

Dr Cheung was planning to conduct a larger trial of the patches in the UK and Europe, but retired before he was able to carry them out.

"If we conducted a larger study and if the results came up with the same pattern the evidence would be difficult to ignore," said Dr Cheung, now a volunteer research fellow attached to the Marie Curie Hospice, in Newcastle.

Dr Cheung says scientists in the UK need to conduct an analysis to try to identify the ingredient that helps people quit.

"The role of these patches should really be explored, it could help a lot of people," he added.