New survey shows funding shortages for local tobacco control could put smokefree 2030 target at risk



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14 January 2020

New survey shows funding shortages for local tobacco control could put smokefree 2030 target at risk

A new survey [1] from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK finds that achieving the Government’s target of reaching a smokefree England by 2030 [2] is threatened by a lack of funding for tobacco control.

As a result of the cuts, a third of local authorities (31%) no longer provide a specialist stop smoking service, with three quarters (74%) of all local authorities citing pressure on budgets as a threat to their tobacco work. These year-on-year cuts meant that total local authority spending on vital stop smoking services and tobacco control declined by 36% between 2014/15 and 2018/19. Cuts in tobacco control budgets have been due to cuts in the public health grant, which need to be reversed if the Government is to achieve its prevention ambitions.

In addition, the survey found that:

  • In a quarter (23%) of local authorities, GPs did not prescribe any Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). Smokers should be offered a choice of combination NRT or varenicline, alongside behavioural support, to give them the best possible chance of quitting.
  • In a fifth (21%) of local authorities with specialist stop smoking advisers, these advisers received fewer than two days’ training. Ensuring specialist staff have adequate training in line with nationally recognised standards is essential if they are to provide effective support to smokers.
  • The 1 in 10 local authorities that only offered a stop smoking service through primary care were the least likely to be targeting groups with a high smoking prevalence (e.g. routine and manual workers or people with mental health conditions), despite this being key to reducing inequalities in smoking.
  • 2% of local authorities offer only telephone stop smoking support.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said:

“Local authorities have a key role to play in achieving the Government’s smokefree 2030 ambition – but they cannot do so without the right financial support.

“To fund the support smokers need to quit, the Government should impose a ‘polluter pays’ charge on the tobacco industry which could raise at least £265m annually. This could adequately fund stop smoking services, local authority enforcement against the illicit tobacco trade and underage sales, and adequately funded public health campaigns to reduce smoking.”

Kruti Shrotri, Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK said:

“Everyone should have access to stop smoking services, no matter where they live, as we know they give people the support they need to quit smoking for good. But because of cuts to the public health grant, not everyone has this opportunity.

“Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer and every year smoking related illness costs the NHS £2.5bn.The tobacco industry makes over £1.5bn of profits each year in the UK, and the government should make it pay for the mess it’s made so smoking can be a thing of the past.”

Opportunities for change – e-cigarettes:

E-cigarettes are now the most popular quitting aid in England, [3] and have been shown to be nearly twice as effective as Nicotine Replacement Therapy when used in a clinical setting. [4]

According to the survey, 11% of local authorities offer smokers free e-cigarette starter packs through their stop smoking service. Other local authorities should consider offering e-cigarettes as an option to help people to quit smoking.

Policy change is needed:

Government must reverse cuts to public health funding and deliver new investment in local tobacco control by imposing a ”polluter pays” charge on the tobacco industry.

This charge could raise £265m – £500m per year and could fund stop smoking services, enforcement against the illicit tobacco trade and mass media public health campaigns to help reduce smoking.

ENDS

References:

[1] Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK). Many Ways Forward: Stop smoking services and tobacco control work in English local authorities. 2020.

[2] In “Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s” the Department of Health and Social Care set out the Government’s ambition to go ‘smoke-free’ in England by 2030. Smokefree means a smoking prevalence of 5% or less. 2019.

[3] Smoking in England, Smoking Toolkit Study. Trends on electronic cigarette use in England. April 2019

[4] Hajek P et al, A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy. N Engl J Med 2019; 380:629-637 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1808779

Notes to the editor:

About Action on Smoking and Health:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: www.ash.org.uk/about-ash

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Media contacts:

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information send an email to press@ash.org.uk or ring 020 7404 0242.