Action on Smoking and Health

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New study shows extent of cuts to local services to help smokers quit, even where there is political support for these services

20 October 2017

In 2016 budgets were cut in all local authority areas where smoking cessation was a low priority. In local authorities where the priority was high 40% made cuts to these life-saving services.

The study is based on online surveys of local tobacco control leads in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The surveys found an increasing number of authorities making cuts to stop smoking budgets, from 16% of services being cut in 2014, rising to 39 % in 2015 and 59% in 2016.

Local authority public health budgets have faced significant pressures since they were transferred from the NHS in 2013. National cuts to budgets and increased responsibilities have left councils with tough decisions to make. A new study, published today by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK [1], demonstrates that in this difficult financial context political priorities can make a difference. Those local authorities which have the highest level of priority for tobacco control saw fewer cuts.

George Butterworth, Senior Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK and co-author of the report, said:

It is deeply concerning that these life-saving services are being eroded year after year, especially in areas where there isn’t the political will to help smokers quit.

“However, local authorities are facing impossible decisions with their public health budgets being repeatedly cut as responsibilities increase. We urgently need national government to reverse the cuts they have made to public health funding before it is too late.”

The Government’s new Tobacco Control Plan published earlier this year sets out a vision for a smokefree generation – where smoking rates are less than 5%. Local council funded services were at the heart of achieving this vision and the Plan calls on local councils to “consider how to target their stop smoking services at those groups locally where prevalence remains high… to break this cycle of inequality”.

Those in local government raised concerns at the time of the Plan’s publication that national government had not provided local authorities with the resources to deliver this vision. Cllr Izzi Seccombe speaking on behalf of the LGA at the time said:

“With one in five still smoking, clearly there is a lot more to be done.

“However this is made all the more difficult by the Government’s reductions to the public health budget… We have long argued that this is a short term approach which will only compound acute pressures for NHS services further down the line.”[2] 

Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at ASH and co-author of the report, said:

“At a time of significant cost pressure in local government, political support for tobacco control mitigates but does not remove the risk of cuts to budgets for smoking cessation. Cuts to quit services have accelerated over the last few years in all areas as national government has clawed back parts of the public health budget.

“Without high quality local services in place vulnerable groups of smokers, such as pregnant women or smokers needing surgery, risk being left to go it alone.

 “The responsibility for this must be shared between local and national government.”

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death across the country, contributing to 20% of deaths among men and 13% among women. [3] It is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor [4], and contributes to household poverty. [5] Smoking costs local authorities in England £760m in social care costs alone. [6]


Notes and Links:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

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

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Deborah Arnott on 07976 935 987 or Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358 593. From Cancer Research UK, George Butterworth is available on 020 3469 8761.


[1] Anderson, WJ Political priorities and public health services in English local authorities: the case of tobacco control and smoking cessation services. Journal of Public Health. October 2017. Available on request and online from Friday 20 October at 10.1093/pubmed/fdx143

[2] Local Government Association. LGA responds to new Tobacco Control Plan. 18 July 2017.

[3] Statistics on Smoking. Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2017

[4] Gruer L, Hart C, Gordon D, et al. Effect of tobacco smoking on survival of men and women by social position: a 28 year cohort study. BMJ 2009; 338: b480.

[5] Action on Smoking and Health. Health inequalities and smoking. London, Action on Smoking and Health, 2016.

[6] Action on Smoking and Health. The costs of smoking to the social care system in England. Second Edition. London, Action on Smoking and Health, 2017.

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