Cuts in public funding could have resulted in fewer people receiving evidence based support to quit smoking, a public health charity has suggested.
Public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said lack of funding had meant fewer services were available for people who needed support to quit. It added that those smokers most heavily addicted and in need of services were disproportionately from low income and disadvantaged groups.
The charity was responding to a report, published on 18 August 2017, that found the number of people setting a date to quit smoking fell for the fifth consecutive year.
NHS Digital’s annual smoking cessation report revealed that 307,507 people had set a quit date using NHS services in 2016/2017 — a decrease of 15% from 2015/2016.
It also showed that the net ingredient cost of all NHS prescription items people used to help quit smoking was £28.5m in 2016–2017 — less than half the total net ingredient cost of £65.9m in 2010–2011.
The number of individuals who self-reported successfully stopping smoking after using NHS services also fell for the fifth consecutive year by 16% to 155,875, the report said.
It suggested the reduction could be partly due to more people using e-cigarettes. Last year, research published in The BMJ
found that changes in the prevalence of e-cigarette use in England had been positively associated with the success rate of people trying to stop smoking.
But Marissa Conway, communications and knowledge officer at ASH, said there was a direct correlation between cuts in funding and fewer people accessing services.
“At the same time, as local public health funding has been slashed, there has been a drop in the numbers accessing smoking cessation services,” she said.
“These services are highly effective in supporting people to quit smoking. As such, they play a crucial part in addressing the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor.”
Conway said the charity was also seeing fewer smokers being prescribed medications like nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), “as CCGs instruct GPs to limit prescriptions”.
She said the government should “ensure local areas have enough funding to support smokers in line with the vision set out in the ‘Tobacco Control Plan’”.
A spokesman for the National Pharmacy Association said: “Community pharmacies have a great track record in helping people to stop smoking, but there is no doubt that budget cuts have resulted in the decommissioning of some services.
“When budgets are tight, there is a tendency for the healthcare system to default to short term objectives, with public health measures being de-prioritised.”
 Beard E, West R, Michie S et al. Association between electronic cigarette use and changes in quit attempts, success of quit attempts, use of smoking cessation pharmacotherapy, and use of stop smoking services in England: time series analysis of population trends. BMJ 2016;358:i4645. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i4645 pmid:27624188