Fewer smokers could quit after 'vital' anti-smoking campaign axed

27 December 2019, 15:33

File photo: Fewer smokers could quit after a vital anti-smoking campaign was axed
File photo: Fewer smokers could quit after a vital anti-smoking campaign was axed. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Fewer smokers could stub out the habit after a “vital” New Year’s anti-smoking campaign was axed by Government budget cuts, a charity has warned.

A Public Health England (PHE) scheme in January which piggybacks the motivation of New Year resolutions was cancelled after its overall anti-smoking budget was reduced from £5 million to £3.8 million.

But the drop in funding "undermines the Government's aim to make England smoke-free by 2030" as "mass media campaigns are essential in helping people quit" the British Lung Foundation (BLF) said.

The BLF also said PHE's 28-day "Stoptober" campaign had seen fewer successful quit attempts after less advert coverage on TV and radio.

The rate of successful quitters fell from 8 per cent of all smokers in 2015 to 6 per cent the following year after spending on media messaging was reduced from £3.1 million to £390,000, according to the charity.

Senior policy officer Rachael Hodges said: "Slashing budgets for these campaigns is a foolhardy decision which not only lets down smokers who are looking to quit but will also result in further pressure on the NHS due to smoking-related illnesses.

"Although smoking rates are declining, we must not be complacent.

"Mass media campaigns are vital in encouraging smokers to quit and stay smoke-free."

Nearly six million people in England are smokers and around one in five people in the UK is affected by lung disease, the charity said.

The BLF wants the Treasury to "reinstate comprehensive funding for both Stoptober and the January Health Harms campaign".

It said smoking "costs society more than £11 billion per year" of which "£2.5 billion falls directly on the NHS".

Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, said: "Within the available money, campaigns have been reprioritised, with the agreement of ministers - with an emphasis on the best start to life, continuing to tackle tobacco harm, raising awareness of the symptoms of cancer, tackling antimicrobial resistance and promoting good mental health."