Smokers turn their backs on NHS as they opt for e-cigarettes to help quit smoking

  • @Jamie_Merrill

The number of people turning to the NHS for help to stop smoking has fallen for the second year in a row, according to a new report.

Anti-smoking campaigners have labelled the new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre “disappointing”, after they showed that the number of people who used the NHS to set a “quit date” to give up cigarettes fell by 19 per cent over the last year.

According to the figures, more than 740,000 smokers used NHS Stop Smoking Services in 2012/2013, but by last year that figure had fallen to 586,000. Anti-smoking campaigners suggested that this may be because more smokers are turning to electronic cigarettes to help them quit.

This is also the first time that this number has fallen for two consecutive years since NHS Stop Smoking Services were first offered by all of England’s local authorities in 2001, with anti-smoking charity ASH blaming the fall on a “combination of the impact of changes in the health service, fewer mass marketing campaigns that specifically encourage people to visit services and the impact of electronic cigarettes”.

“We know an ever increasing number of people are using electronic cigarettes to help them quit,” said Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at charity. “While services can’t prescribe people electronic cigarettes, they can give people who want to use them extra support which can make all the difference to a successful quit.”

Martin Dockrell, tobacco control programme lead at Public Health England, which monitors NHS Stop Smoking Services, pointed out that “local stop smoking services are effective as ever at helping smokers to quit, even if overall numbers using the services have declined. Smokers are four times more likely to succeed using these services.”

He added: “Many factors could explain why overall numbers are down including the emerging popularity of e-cigarettes as a quitting aid. However, so far no e-cigarettes have been licenced as medicines, and their contents and quality varies greatly. There is no reason why someone wanting to quit using an e-cigarette shouldn’t also speak to a stop smoking service to receive additional support and advice to stand the best chance of quitting for good.”

Smoking is England’s biggest killer, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths a year, however the most recent Office for National Statistics figures show the prevalence of smoking in society is continuing to decline overall.