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One in three local councils axing stop smoking services amid funding cuts, warn charities


By Eleanor Philpotts
22 January 2020

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Almost a third of local authorities no longer offer specialist stop smoking services, with funding cuts across England threatening national targets to become a smoke-free country by 2030, charities have warned.

A survey of local councils by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK found public health budget cuts in recent years meant 31% had stopped providing specialist smoking cessation support, although 98% still offer some form of help.

Specialist programmes – such as those offering behavioural support and pharmacotherapy – are far more effective than other forms of help, such as lifestyle advice on healthy living, noted the report.

Meanwhile, around three-quarters of all local authorities cited funding pressures as posing a threat to their work in helping smokers to quit.

Among the local authorities that still had a budget for stop smoking services, 35% had reduced this budget between 2018/19 and 2019/20.

According to official data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, year-on-year funding reductions saw total local authority spending on stop smoking services and tobacco control decline by 36% between 2014/15 and 2018/19, said the charities.

The charities called for the Government to reverse its cuts to the public health grants given to local councils.

Survey findings

The survey also found:

  • In nearly a quarter (23%) of local authorities, GPs did not prescribe any nicotine replacement therapy (NRT);
  • In a fifth (21%) of local authorities with specialist stop smoking advisers, these advisers received less than two days’ training;
  • The one in 10 local authorities that only offered a stop smoking service through primary care were the least likely to be targeting groups with a high smoking prevalence, such as routine and manual workers, or people with mental health conditions, despite this being key to reducing inequalities in smoking
  • 2% of local authorities only offer stop smoking support over the phone

ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said the Government should charge tobacco companies, which could raise at least £265m annually to help fund stop smoking services and campaigns.

Kruti Shrotri, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, added: ‘Everyone should have access to stop smoking services, no matter where they live, as we know they give people the support they need to quit smoking for good. But because of cuts to the public health grant, not everyone has this opportunity.

‘Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer and every year smoking-related illness costs the NHS £2.5bn.

‘The tobacco industry makes over £1.5bn of profits each year in the UK, and the Government should make it pay for the mess it’s made so smoking can be a thing of the past.’

Earlier this month, new research revealed smokers in England are showing fewer signs of dependence on cigarettes but are less inclined to try to quit.

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