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Action on Smoking and Health and Cancer Research UK have released their annual national survey of local government stop smoking support services

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Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) have released their annual national survey of local government stop smoking support services. The update displays improvements compared to service provisions before the Covid-19 pandemic. It does contain a warning about the pressures being placed on the services due to funding.

ASH and CRUK says that in 2021, 76% of local authorities were providing some form of dedicated specialist service for smokers, compared to 69% in 2019. However, long term underfunding and forecast growth in demand for services due to new NHS programmes, is placing pressure on services and has increased the urgency to improve local authority public health funding to meet these demands and tackle inequalities in the wake of the pandemic.

The two bodies state: “Local councils adapted quickly to the challenges posed by the pandemic to make sure services were available for smokers. For example, by delivering these traditionally face-to-face services remotely, reaching out to vulnerable homeless populations being bought into hotels and finding new ways to support access to medications. However, although a third (36%) reported that the emergency context had created positive opportunities for services to be delivered differently and reach more people, a further third (34%) reported that the pandemic had compromised their ability to provide support.”

Consecutive UK Government cuts to the Public Health Grant since 2015/16 mean that local councils can only do so much. The lowest point was reached in 2018 when just 67% of councils were able to provide a dedicated specialist stop smoking service.

Councils are complaining that they still haven’t been given their budgets this year and are finding it impossible to plan as a consequence.

The report recommends that:

  • National Government implement the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health recommendations necessary to secure a smokefree country by 2030 including a charge on tobacco companies to fund services
  • Local Government embed addressing smoking in their covid recovery plans as part of addressing inequalities
  • New Integrated Care Boards collaborate with Local Government to ensure joined up plans across local government and the NHS to tackle smoking and maximise the opportunity to support more smokers to stop

Malcolm Clark, Senior Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK said: “Smoking is a leading cause of health inequalities, so it’s great to see local authorities engaging with people who have the highest rates of smoking. However, this report also shows the harmful impact of years of funding cuts to public health budgets. To close the inequality gap, everyone who smokes must have access to effective specialist support to help them stop. Increased and sustainable funding for local tobacco control is vital for this to happen.”

Jim McManus, President of Association of Directors of Public Health added: “Astonishing things have been achieved with little funding in public health. However, there are limits. New NHS Lung Health Checks are already creating demand for quit support that areas are struggling to meet, and this is before further new NHS services for smokers get up and running later this year. The funding burden this creates on local authorities needs to be met. This is a time of tremendous opportunity with the NHS stepping up on smoking, but all parts of the system must be equipped to meet it, or we risk failing to help those who need it most.”

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of ASH concluded: “Now more than ever councils see the value in protecting the public’s health and the benefit of a local population that is fit and healthy. However, funding for services have been cut by a third and is insufficient to cope with the new pressures now looming. A levy on tobacco companies to fund tobacco control is needed or thousands of smokers will fail to get the help they need to quit successfully.”


Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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