Tobacco remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK. Smoking rates recently hit a record low in England, but around nine million adults still smoke in Great Britain.
Over recent years the UK has made steady progress in reducing smoking. Landmark achievements like smoke-free pubs, bars and restaurants, plain, standardised cigarette packs and increasing taxes to make tobacco less affordable, have all helped encourage people to stop smoking. But they have also stopped people, particularly children, from starting smoking.
To help those people already trapped in a tobacco addiction and to prevent cancers and ill health caused by smoking, support is needed to help them quit. That support exists. People are around three times more likely to give up for good when using a Stop Smoking Service, compared to going it alone.
Councils are on the frontline in the battle against tobacco, running or commissioning Stop Smoking Services. But local authorities are facing huge pressures on budgets as a result of repeated cuts to the Public Health Grant from central government.
Despite a supposed ‘ring-fence’ to protect these budgets, there have been cuts of £200m to budgets in 2015, and further annual reductions of more than £100m a year are expected between now and 2020.
That’s why Cancer Research UK is running our 'Don’t Quit on Us' campaign, www.cruk.org/dontquitonus, to amplify the voice of local government to send a simple message:
The Government must provide councils with the funds they need to run effective Stop Smoking Services, and the media activity to make sure smokers can find them.
Over 600 councillors from more than 100 councils, representing all political parties, across England have already shown their support. The more councillors who back the campaign, the stronger the message to the chancellor.
The need for action has never been clearer. Our new report carried out by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showed that, sadly, all over England, councils are struggling to maintain Stop Smoking Services. Three in five councils (59%) have been forced to cut their budgets for helping people stop smoking since last year - up from 39% in 2015/16.
For the first time ever, the majority of councils across England are having to reduce the amount of money available to help smokers to quit. No region across England has been spared.
This is even more frustrating when our report also found that councils want to support smokers properly.
Tobacco control has consistently remained a high or above average priority across most regions in England. It also has strong support among those in charge, such as the council leader or lead members for health and wellbeing, with virtually no opposition.
But, unfortunately, it appears that cuts to public health mean their ambitions won’t be realised. And that means the outlook for people wanting to use these services continues to worsen.
Cutting funds to these services is also a false economy. Fewer ex-smokers means more people at an increased risk of developing smoking related cancers, and this leads to higher costs to authorities and the NHS for managing and treating these diseases in the long term.
And when councils are under more pressure than ever, the decisions they face can be life-changing.
As a councillor, you can help Cancer Research UK to send a clear message to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to show just how important these services are. Please add your name and tell the chancellor - Don’t Quit on Us.
Philip Brownlie is a public affairs manager with Cancer Research UK