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Smoking quit attempt numbers fall again

Numbers accessing smoking cessation services fell 15% in past year

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 18 August 2017

The number of people setting a quit smoking attempt has fallen for the fifth consecutive year amid fears that people are getting less access to official stop smoking services.

New Statistics on NHS Stop Smoking Services data from NHS Digital shows that the number of people setting a quit date fell to 307,507 in 2016-17, which was 15% down on the figure for 2015-16.

However, NHS Digital said the reduction could be partly due to increased use of e-cigarettes which are widely available outside of these services.

The number of successful self-reported quitters also fell for the fifth consecutive year to 155,875, which was a decrease of 16% on 2015-16.

The data, which cover the period from April 2016 to March 2017, shows that the number of people using stop smoking services has fallen dramatically by more than 60% from 816,444 in 2011-12 to 307,507 in 2016-17.

Prescribed help in the form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is also becoming less common.

In 2016-17, 542,000 items of NRT were dispensed, down from 644,000 in 2015-16, and around a quarter of the total of 10 years ago in 2006-07 (1.9 million).

Health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said the figures demonstrated how the fight against smoking was under threat from the erosion of funding to stop smoking services, which were the most effective way to help smokers quit.

Half (51%) of people using such a service were successfully smoke-free after four weeks, claimed ASH, whose director of policy Hazel Cheeseman said: “The reduction in people using stop smoking services is disappointing.

“Despite impressive ambitions in the government’s recently published Tobacco Control Plan, these highly successful services have been left under-funded. The government must put its money where its mouth is and provide proper investment to local authorities to fund these services.”

Local authorities’ funding cuts in recent years had meant that public health had been stripped back, she added, even though it had been estimated by NICE that for every pound invested in smoking cessation, £2.37 in benefits were generated.

“Smokers from all backgrounds are more likely to successfully quit if they use a stop smoking service,” said Ms Cheeseman. “If we allow these expert services to disappear from our communities we will face an uphill battle to reduce the inequalities caused by smoking.”

BMA board of science chair, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said: “It is disappointing to see fewer people are seeking help from stop-smoking services. This does not mean that fewer smokers want support to help them quit tobacco, as it is more likely that individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to access local government-funded cessation services in the wake of significant public health cuts.

“Hospital wards and GP surgeries already struggle with the pressure of rising patient demand so any preventative services such as smoking cessation that could reduce smoking-related ill health and patient admissions must be prioritised.”

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils remain committed to helping smokers quit, however this is made all the more difficult by the government’s reductions to the public health budget, which councils use to fund stop smoking services.

“We have long argued that this is a short-term approach which will only compound acute pressures for NHS services further down the line.”

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