Around forty per cent of local authorities in England are cutting budgets to stop smoking services according to a new Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) report published today (Wednesday) by Cancer Research UK.
In the second report of its kind, tobacco control experts from 126 local authorities across England have been asked about their stop smoking services, their budgets and how well their services were integrating since moving to local government in 2013.
The new 2014/15 report finds that in two out of five areas funding is being cut back. In addition half of all services are being reconfigured or recommissioned indicating a high level of change across the country.
The previous 2013/14 report reviewed the first full year of tobacco control moving to local authorities from PCTs. The results were generally positive but there were significant concerns flagged about future cuts to services.
In the Spending Review 2015, the Government announced cuts to local council public health budgets of 3.9 per cent a year over the next five years. This is in addition to the £200 million extra in year cuts announced at the Budget 2015.
Stop Smoking Services are not mandatory services that councils must provide so there are fears they will be targeted and hit hard by cuts. This would then make it difficult for smokers to get the support they need to help them break their addiction.
Encouragingly, the study found that the benefits of joining local government were widely acknowledged. Tobacco control experts said they valued the constructive relationships with their colleagues in other departments (cited by 86 per cent) and the integration of tobacco control in the wider strategy and business of the council (60 per cent).
Seventy-five per cent said the biggest difficulty of moving to local government is the pressure on tobacco control and smoking cessation budgets.
While a quarter (24 per cent) felt negative about the future of tobacco control, a majority (59 per cent) said they felt positive about the future of tobacco control in local government.
George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said: “These findings are a useful insight into the state of play for stop smoking services and provide a warning that their lifesaving work needs to remain a priority. Thousands of people will want to quit smoking this new year and free stop smoking services provided by local councils provide vital support to help them achieve that goal. These services are under threat from a lack of sustainable funding. 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.
“We believe the tobacco industry should pay for the damage their products cause. A levy on the tobacco industry should be used to provide sustainable funding for Stop Smoking Services and mass media campaigns to help people quit.”
Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy for ASH and one of the report authors, said: “Our research shows that most local councils take their responsibility to reduce smoking very seriously. But, they are facing enormous funding pressures. The services we have to support smokers to quit are world class but they are being eroded. The wider role that council’s play in tackling smoking – such as enforcing existing laws on smoking and selling tobacco – is also under threat.
“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.”