Smokers denied best quit support due to cut-backs

Author: Jo Carlowe
Smokers denied best quit support due to cut-backs

Smokers are being denied the best quit support due to government cuts.

This is the finding from a report* published today by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK, which found that cuts to public health budgets mean that only half of local authorities offer all smokers the support they need to quit.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 44% of local authorities no longer have a specialist stop smoking service open to all smokers in their area (56% continue to provide a universal specialist service with a further 9% targeting their specialist support to groups of smokers such as pregnant women and people with a mental health condition).
  • Local councils who retained a specialist model had higher rates of quitting than those with less specialist support.
  • Over 100,000 smokers no longer have access to any local authority commissioned support to quit smoking across 3% of local authorities that have cut all provision.

The survey, which is now in its fifth year, has found support for smokers and funding for other measures to reduce youth smoking and promote quit attempts has fallen by £41.3 million since 2014/15, a decline of 30%.

The report calls for:

  • Government to reverse cuts to the public health grant
  • Local authorities to ensure their stop smoking services are evidence-based and support the most people to quit smoking
  • Local authorities to coordinate their tobacco control efforts with other partners and invest in activities in addition to stop smoking services that will help bring down rates of smoking.

Kruti Shrotri, cancer prevention policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “The government needs to reverse its cuts to public health budgets. Too many people still die from smoking, and we know that most smokers want to quit. Smokers in disadvantaged circumstances generally find quitting harder but are around three times more likely to quit successfully with the help of stop smoking services. We can’t deny those most in need of vital help that could save their life.”

Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy, ASH, said: “Local authorities are having to make the best of a butchered public health budget and many are managing to do just that. But councils need to avoid a race to the bottom and ensure they maintain investment in stop smoking support and the other activities that will reduce smoking and tackle inequalities – this necessarily requires sustainable funding from central government.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) has described cuts in smoking cessation services as ‘bad for public health and not cost-effective’.

BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English, said: “With smoking remaining one of the leading causes of preventable ill health, it is concerning that we are seeing such a significant reduction in funding for stop smoking services.

“These services remain one of the most effective ways of quitting and are a vital source of support for those who have taken the difficult step to seek help.

“Budget reductions have unfortunately led to unacceptable variations in the quality and quantity of services available. This is particularly apparent in more deprived areas where demand is higher, and resources more thinly spread.

“Government reductions in the public health grant has meant many local authorities are under a lot of pressure to make savings and are very often in the position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul with prevention services often at risk.

“Cuts to smoking and other healthcare prevention services are not cost-effective in the long run. They have a detrimental impact on population health which risks widening health inequalities and increases future NHS demand requiring further spending.”

Responding, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told OnMedica: "Smoking rates are already at all-time lows and we are committed to bringing about a smoke free generation by 2022 through the 2017 Tobacco Control Plan.

“We are determined to do more, which is why prevention is at the heart of our Long Term Plan for the NHS, on top of the £3.5 billion we are already giving councils to fund public health services this year. Under the plan we will be giving more resources for primary and community care to tackle smoking, and help to quit will be offered to every smoker admitted to hospital."

*A changing landscape: stop smoking services and tobacco control in England. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK. 15 March 2019.