Fewer are quitting cigarettes despite millions spent on anti-smoking services

The number of people giving up cigarettes declined last year, despite millions of pounds being invested in NHS stop smoking services.

More than 337,000 people successfully gave up smoking through the NHS in England last year, a drop of 4 per cent on the previous year, when record numbers quit as a ban on smoking in public places was introduced.

While official figures still show a 5 per cent rise on the numbers who quit in 2006-07 — before the ban was introduced — the total amount spent on smoking cessation services has risen by 44 per cent in the same period.

The Department of Health suggested that costs were going up in part because smokers accessing NHS services were increasingly dependent and “harder to help”.

A total of £74 million was spent last year, equivalent to a cost per quitter of £219, compared with £173 in the same period in 2007-08 and £160 in the same period in 2006-07.

However, a Department of Health spokesman added that funding for stop-smoking clinics, drugs and nicotine therapy still reflected value-for-money, given the £2.7 billion a year spent on treating smoking-related diseases.

Smokers who try to quit with NHS support are considered more than four times more likely to successfully kick their habits, compared with smokers who go “cold turkey” and try and quit on their own.

The latest figures, published by the NHS Information Centre, show that 671,259 people set a quit date through NHS services in 2008-09, again a slight decrease (1 per cent) on the previous year but only half of those had successfully stopped smoking within four weeks.

Even though the health risks of smoking are now publicised on every packet, just over one in five people (21 per cent) in Britain still light up regularly.

Smoking rates are highest in the 20-24 age group (31 per cent) and lowest among those aged 60 and over (12 per cent). But of those setting a quit date, success rates generally increased with age, from 39 per cent of those aged under 18, to 53 per cent of those aged 60 and over.

Of the 18,928 pregnant women who set a quit date, 8,641 successfully quit (46 per cent). This was a decrease of 12 per cent on the number of pregnant women who stopped smoking in 2007-08.

Among all clients setting a quit date, the majority (67 per cent) received only nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or inhalers, but one in five received the drug Champix (varenicline) or other medication designed to make cigarettes repellant to even those smoking several packs a day.

The latest figures come as scientists confirmed that inheriting certain genetic mutations can increase a smokers’ risk of developing lung cancer, and determine the type of lung cancer that develops.

The Cancer Research UK study found changes in three regions of the genome that were more common in lung cancer patients than healthy individuals.

Current or former smokers who carry mutations on two particular sites on chromosome 15 could increase their risk of developing lung cancer by as much as 80 per cent.

While people who do not smoke can also carry these changes the risk was only found to be increased in those who smoke, the researchers write in this week’s edition of the journal Cancer Research.

Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer — causing nine out of ten cases of the disease. This research shows that inherited genetic variation accounts for some of this risk and the type of lung cancer that develops.

“It’s important to remember that smoking also increases the risk of other life-threatening diseases including heart disease, stroke and a dozen other cancers. The best thing a smoker can do to reduce their risk of lung cancer, and a range of other life-threatening conditions, is to quit.”

The charity Action on Smoking and Health added: “The overall trend in number of people quitting smoking through the NHS services is still positive. The numbers are almost equal to the previous year when a record number of smokers made quit attempts to coincide with the smokefree law.

“Interventions to help people stop smoking are among the most cost-effective available to the NHS and the stop smoking services continue to provide excellent value for money.”

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said that the Government was wasting vital NHS resources.

“It’s extraordinary that more money is being spent for worse outcomes,” he said. “The incentive system for doctors has to be urgently changed. GPs shouldn’t be paid just for referring people to stop-smoking services, they should be paid for helping them to successfully quit.”

© Copyright: August 21, 2009 Timesonline

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