Reverse public health cuts to support council stop-smoking services

21 March 2019, Katie Coyne

Public health budgets have been 'butchered' and councils have been forced to abandon many stop smoking services, according to anti-smoking and cancer charities.

The government must reverse cuts to the public health grant, and tax tobacco companies, to help support local authority smoking cessation services, argued Action on Smoking and Health, and Cancer Research.

Their annual survey shows that over the past five years funding for help to stop smoking has fallen by £41.3m, which is a 30% reduction. Public health budgets were slashed by £200m in 2015 and each year since it has been subject to swathing cuts.

Smoking rates for adults are still falling but they have plateaued for some groups, such as pregnant women, and poorer people are still more likely to smoke than richer individuals.

Just 9% of councils offer specialist stop smoking support targeted at groups such as pregnant women and people with mental health conditions.

ASH director of policy Hazel Cheeseman, 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."

More than 100,000 smokers no longer have access to any local authority commissioned smoking cessation scheme – 3% of local authorities have cut all provision.

Some 44% of local authorities no longer provide specific stop-smoking services – though they may provide some kind of generic healthy lifestyle type service focussing on a range of issues including smoking. 

Cancer Research UK cancer prevention policy manager Kruti Shrotri 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."

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has called for a range of measures around smoking cessation schemes including a levy on tobacco companies to pay for it, which ASH and Cancer Research UK back.

APPG on Smoking and Health chair Bob Blackman MP said: "Tobacco companies continue to make millions in profit in this country as public health budgets are under pressure. The government should compel tobacco companies to pay up so we can invest in what is needed to help more smokers quit."

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