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Significant cuts to stop smoking services identified

40% of local authorities have cut stop smoking budgets

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Around 40% of local authorities in England are cutting their budgets to stop smoking services as they struggle to balance the books, finds a new Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) report* published today by Cancer Research UK.

For the report, ASH asked 126 local authorities across England about their stop smoking services, their budgets and how well their services were integrating since moving to local government in 2013.

From responses from 118 tobacco control experts, it showed two out of five areas were cutting back on this area of funding and half of all services were being reconfigured or recommissioned.

In last year’s spending review, the government announced cuts to local council public health budgets of 3.9% a year over the next five years. This is in addition to the £200 million extra in year cuts announced at the Budget 2015.

ASH said that because stop smoking services were not mandatory services that councils had to provide, it feared they would be targeted and reduced, thus making it difficult for smokers to get support to quit their habit.

The report’s authors found wide acknowledgement of the benefits of these services becoming the responsibility of local government.

Nevertheless, 75% of the experts said the biggest difficulty of moving to local government was the pressure on tobacco control and smoking cessation budgets.

While a quarter (24%) felt negative about the future of tobacco control, a majority (59%) said they felt positive about the future of tobacco control in local government.

Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy for ASH and one of the report authors, said: “Our research shows that most local councils take their responsibility to reduce smoking very seriously. But, they are facing enormous funding pressures.

“The services we have to support smokers to quit are world class but they are being eroded. The wider role that council’s play in tackling smoking - such as enforcing existing laws on smoking and selling tobacco - is also under threat.

“We need national action now to ensure that local authorities have the tools and the funding to do everything they can to reduce smoking rates.”

George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said: “Thousands of people will want to quit smoking this new year and free stop smoking services provided by local councils provide vital support to help them achieve that goal.

“These services are under threat from a lack of sustainable funding. The government must establish a sustainable funding model for local tobacco control and stop smoking services before they are eroded further.”

Izzi Seccombe, community wellbeing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Since the advent of e-cigarettes and campaigns such as Stoptober, we have seen the number of users of smoking cessation services fall, while the population of smokers left is now more challenging to get to quit.

“This means councils are re-evaluating what they do on tobacco control and how to be more effective.

“Councils remain committed to helping smokers quit, however they face significant cuts to public health budgets this year, and spending large volumes of money on a service people are not using will fast undermine the cost-effectiveness of providing it.”

* Anderson W and Cheeseman H. Reading between the lines. The results of a survey of tobacco control leads in local authorities in England. A report by Action on Smoking and Health commissioned by Cancer Research UK, January 2016.

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