Cuts to public health budgets will mean fewer smokers kick the habit in the new year after a major campaign was axed, a charity has warned.
The British Lung Foundation (BLF) said the drive by Public Health England (PHE) to try to persuade smokers to quit in January as part of their new year resolutions had become a victim of “foolhardy” funding cuts by ministers.
PHE’s anti-smoking budget has been reduced from £5m to £3.8m.
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 BLF said.
The BLF also said PHE’s 28-day Stoptober campaign had seen fewer successful quit attempts after TV and radio advertising was reduced.
The rate of successful quitting attempts fell from 8 per cent of all smokers in 2015 to 6 per cent in 2016 after spending on media messaging was cut from £3.1m to £390,000, according to the charity.
Rachael Hodges, a senior policy officer for the BLF, 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 6 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 £11bn per year” of which “£2.5bn falls directly on the NHS”.
Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of PHE, 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.”
Additional reporting by agencies