Around 40% of local authorities in England are cutting or planning to cut budgets for stop smoking services, a charity report has claimed.
The report is based on the views of tobacco control experts from 126 councils, who were asked about their stop smoking services, their budgets and how well their services were integrating since moving to local government in 2013.
“These findings are a useful insight into the state of play for stop smoking services and provide a warning”
In two out of five areas funding was being cut back in 2014-15, said the report from pressure group Action on Smoking and Health. In addition, half of all services were being reconfigured or recommissioned.
It is the second report of its kind, the previous one having been published for 2013-14. It reviewed the first full year of tobacco control commissioning moving to local authorities from primary care trusts – subsequently replaced by clinical commissioning groups.
The latest report flagged significant concerns about future cuts to services, following last year’s government announcements on public health funding.
Cuts to local council public health funding of 3.9% a year over the next five years were announced in the autumn spending review. It followed £200m in-year cuts revealed in the budget.
- Public health nursing faces ‘despair’ of council budget cuts
- London ‘will suffer most’ from £200m public health cuts
- Concern that £200m may be shaved off public health budget
The report noted that stop smoking services were not mandatory for councils to provide, in contrast to some other public health services, leading to fears they would be hit hard by cuts to funding.
Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy for ASH and one of the report authors, said: “The services we have to support smokers to quit are world class but they are being eroded.
“We need national action now to ensure that local authorities have the tools and the funding to do everything they can to reduce smoking rates,” she added.
George Butterworth, tobacco policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “These findings are a useful insight into the state of play for stop smoking services and provide a warning.
“These services are under threat from a lack of sustainable funding,” he said. “The government must establish a sustainable funding model for local tobacco control and stop smoking services before they are eroded further.
“We’re urging local government to remain committed to reducing smoking rates, and for national leadership to keep this issue on the agenda,” he added.
“Spending large volumes of money on a service people are not using will fast undermine its cost-effectiveness”
Responding to the report, Local Government Association said fewer people were using local smoking cessation services due to the success of national campaigns like Stoptober and the introduction of e-cigarettes.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, the LGA’s community wellbeing spokeswoman, said: “We have seen the number of users of smoking cessation services fall, while the population of smokers left is now more challenging to get to quit.
“This means councils are re-evaluating what they do on tobacco control and how to be more effective,” she said.
“Councils remain committed to helping smokers quit, however they face significant cuts to public health budgets this year, and spending large volumes of money on a service people are not using will fast undermine the cost-effectiveness of providing it,” she added.