Cuts to public health grants in England have led to a 9% reduction in specialist smoking cessation services between 2017 and 2018, a survey from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has found.
In their joint report, ‘A changing landscape: stop smoking services and tobacco control in England’, the two bodies write that the number of local authorities offering specialist services has dropped from 74% in 2017 to 65% in 2018.
Of these services, just 56% offer a universal specialist service that is open to all local smokers as opposed to targeted groups, such as pregnant women or those with mental health problems.
The report, which surveyed tobacco control leads responsible for 107 local authorities, found that 36% of authorities had reduced their smoking cessation budgets in 2018, compared with only 4% that had increased them. And 18% reported having no specific budget for stop smoking services, owing to a shift to an “integrated lifestyle service”, in which smoking cessation support is included as part of a holistic approach that also includes advice on weight management, alcohol use and general wellbeing.
In 9% of local authorities, the only way to access smoking cessation advice was through a GP or pharmacist. In January 2018, a Freedom of Information request sent to local authorities by The Pharmaceutical Journal
found that almost a fifth of local authorities in England had decommissioned community pharmacy-led smoking cessation services in the previous three years. Of the authorities that responded to the request, just 57% said that they currently commission smoking cessation services from community pharmacies.
ASH and CRUK also report that 3% of local authorities have decommissioned all smoking cessation support — meaning that “over 100,000 smokers no longer have access to any local authority commissioned support to quit smoking”.
They argue that “the shift away from specialist services may save money in the short term but risks a failure to deliver results if specialist smoking cessation support is lost in the process”. Among their recommendations, the two bodies said that the government should be “reversing the decline in the public health grant and seeking a sustainable long-term funding solution”.
Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at 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.”