Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 11:03 UK

Fewer smokers quit in past year


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The number of people managing to stop smoking with NHS help in England has fallen slightly in the past year - despite a huge increase in funding.

In 2008/09, the NHS spent an extra £13m on helping people to quit - a 21% hike in resources.

But the number of people who had successfully quit at the four-week mark fell by 4%, official NHS figures show.

It follows record quit-rates two years ago after the introduction of the smoking ban in public places.

It's extraordinary that more money is being spent for worse outcomes
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman

The ban - introduced in England and Wales in 2007 and in Scotland in 2006 - was seen as one key reason many more people may have tried to quit that year.

But NHS Information Centre figures from April 2008 to March 2009 showed 1% fewer people set a quit date through the NHS Stop Smoking Services than the previous 12 months at 671,259.

Of those who tried to quit, 50% were successful at four weeks, but overall 13,746 fewer smokers had managed to kick the habit compared with 2007/08.

The number of pregnant women who successfully stopped smoking also dropped, falling 12% to 8,641.

Smoking ban

The figures remain high compared with those prior to the smoking ban coming into force.

Compared with 2006/07, the latest data shows 71,000 more people tried to quit over the past year and 17,000 more people were successful.

The NHS now spends £74 million annually on helping people quit, compared with £22m two years ago - not including the cost of any drugs such as nicotine replacement therapy, the NHS Information Centre said.

That is £219 per quitter compared with £160 in 2006/07.

One in five people now use controversial stop smoking drug varenicline (Champix), the figures show.

Trials show it is associated with a higher quit rate than traditional therapies but it is being monitored closely by regulators after reports of adverse effects including suicidal thoughts.

The NHS Information Centre's chief executive Tim Straughan said it was "encouraging" that more people are quitting smoking than before the smoking ban was introduced.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said smokers who quit with NHS support are more than four times more likely to be successful than those who go cold turkey.

She added that increased costs were partly due to inflation.

They have also increased because the NHS was treating more highly dependent "harder to help" smokers, she said.

Public health minister Gillian Merron, said: "The NHS Stop Smoking Services give people the best possible chance of stubbing out a dangerous habit for good, improving their opportunity to lead a healthy life and saving thousands of lives every year.

"We provide high quality, cost-effective support and advice that is clinically proven to work in helping people to stop smoking, and will continue to do so, with extra help for those who need it most."

Professor John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group, said that a quarter of a million people quitting would lead to 125,000 fewer deaths from tobacco-related diseases.

"There is no way the government could achieve this result so cost-effectively by any other means; no other country in the world is providing cessation services on the same scale and with the same level of success.

"It is vital that we continue to develop the options available to those who wish to quit and reach out to other smokers."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said the figures showed the government was wasting resources.

"It's extraordinary that more money is being spent for worse outcomes."

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