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Council joy goes up in smoke

Tower Hamlets Council has welcomed government measures to reduce smoking this month – at the same time as it prepared to axe nearly £1 million from its own smoking cessation service over the next couple of years.

The Council chose World No Tobacco Day (31st May) to reveal its support for new laws which require all tobacco products to be sold in standard packaging. It describes the human cost of smoking: “Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable deaths in the UK and is a threat to local young people in particular. Two thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 and in Tower Hamlets more than 874 children start smoking every year.” It hopes standardised packaging will make smoking less appealing to youngsters.

Dr Somen Banerjee, Director of Public Health in Tower Hamlets, pointed out that the Council has been working locally to help smokers stop using tobacco, saying, “Over the last few years we have worked hard to reduce smoking in the area and stop smoking services are available to help people quit throughout the borough.”

This is where it starts to get weird: just days ago the Council revealed it is planning to cut back drastically on its anti-smoking support services. The Government has cut back on the amount of money it gives Tower Hamlets for Public Health work and the Council is considering a wide range of cuts in the services it delivers. Its base budget for smoking cessation support is £1,367,940. It is proposing to cut this by £407,000 this year, with a further £80,000 of cuts to come next year.

There is a further contradiction in the cuts it is proposing. In its background material to the current cuts consultation, the Council admits that the rate of smoking has been falling less fast among poorer sections of the community, so it is going to ration its services to these groups. Further, its shaving down its budget for specialist cessation services, including services targeted at BME groups – on the basis it hopes that these smokers will come to the specialist service rather than to GPs. As the specialist services have, now, a higher quit rate than GPs, they hope that getting more smokers to come to the specialist services will up the quit rate and therefore reduce the cost per quit. It could, of course, have the opposite effect – just bringing down the quit rate in the specialist services. Smokers who want to quit will have to travel further to access the specialist services – which could demoralise them.

The Council also intends to cut back on tobacco control – that is, check the Environmental Health Team make on shops which might be selling counterfeit tobacco products or selling to under age youngsters.

The list of proposed cuts is presented in a very positive fashion, with the Council claiming that cutting the funding for this service by a third is “not anticipated to have a detrimental impact on local or national stop smoking targets”. If this is the case, why was the Council wasting £487,000 on the service in the first place?

To see full details of the Council’s proposed cuts in spending on smoking cessation and to send them your views, go to:
http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/council_and_democracy/consultations/Public_health_savings_consultation/Smoking_Cessation_Programme.aspx

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