A new joint report by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK found that 54 per cent of local authorities in the region were forced to reduce their smoking cessation budgets in the last year, putting these vital services – and thousands of lives - at risk.
With repeated Government cuts to councils’ public health budgets, over the last three years, findings from the report suggest that financial pressures could significantly undermine efforts to stub-out smoking.
It comes as Cancer Research UK launches its new campaign – Don’t Quit on Us – to help ensure smokers get the support they need to give up the deadly habit.
Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK. It is linked to 14 different types of the disease including most lung cancers – the leading cause of cancer deaths in the South East.
The majority of local authorities (54 per cent) surveyed in the region said tobacco control was a high priority for them.
Specialist Stop Smoking Services provided as part of a comprehensive strategy are around three times more effective at helping smokers to quit, in comparison to those trying to go it alone.
In the South East, nearly 16 per cent of people smoke so losing these vital services could be devastating and cost the NHS millions.
Worryingly, 31 per cent of councils in the region have also cut their budgets for other tobacco control work such as tackling the illegal tobacco market and preventing young people from taking up smoking.
That’s why Cancer Research UK is urging people to email their local councillors and ask them to help put pressure on the Government to solve the funding crisis in public health.
Lynn Daly, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the South East, said: “The figures released today expose the terrible financial pressures facing councils across the region.
“Losing Stop Smoking Services is bad news – for the smoker, for councils and for the NHS.
“We’re not just talking about numbers on a balance sheet. Smoking is a lethal addiction - less money to help people stop could be a matter of life or death.
“We have a vision for the future: a tobacco-free South East where, by 2035, fewer than one in 20 adults in the region smoke. If we are to realise this ambition, then it’s vital to help smokers quit by ensuring that the most effective route – through a Stop Smoking Service – receives continued investment.
“Now we need as many local councillors as possible to support our call and show the Government that we aren’t about to let them quit on us.”
Research shows that every £1 spent on smoking cessation saves around £10 in lifetime health care costs.
In the South East, each year local authorities spend an average of £15.97 per smoker on helping them to quit. The English average is £14.78.
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said: “Our research shows that most local authorities remain committed to reducing smoking but key services are under threat from ongoing funding cuts. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to reap huge profits from a product that kills around 100,000 people every year in the UK and is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor.
“If the Prime Minister is to succeed in her ambition to improve the life chances of the poorest in society the government must take action to ensure that local authorities have the tools and the funding they need to continue to provide specialist stop smoking services as part of a tobacco control strategy targeted at those with greatest need.”
To support Cancer Research UK’s Don’t Quit on Us campaign, visit cruk.org/dontquitonus