Cancer Research UK has launched a new campaign urging the Government to make the tobacco industry “cough up” for the health damage caused by cigarettes.
The charity says that by charging the industry a ‘tobacco levy’ of around 1p for every cigarette sold in the UK, an extra £500m could be raised and spent on funding stop-smoking services and anti-smoking advertising campaigns.
The petition follows a Cancer Research UK survey of tobacco control experts from 126 local authorities across England which revealed cuts to public health budgets were leading to the closure of stop-smoking services up and down the country.
According to research by the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), around 40 per cent of local authorities in England are currently slashing their budgets to services aimed at helping people give up smoking.
As part of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, funding for stop-smoking services must now come from local public health budgets, rather than the NHS. Last year’s spending review announced annual cuts to these budgets of 3.9 per cent over the next five years on top of the £200m public health reduction already earmarked. Health campaigners now fear that because councils are not obliged to provide stop-smoking services, they will face significant pressure.
George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said: “Thousands of people will want to quit smoking this new year, and free stop-smoking services provided by local councils give vital support to help them achieve that goal.
“These services are under threat from a lack of sustainable funding. The government must establish a sustainable funding model for local tobacco control and stop-smoking services before they are eroded further.”
When combined with prescription medications such as nicotine replacement therapies, stop-smoking services are said to triple the chances of those trying to give up. Last year, around 450,000 people used NHS stop-smoking services, with more than half reporting that they had successfully quit smoking for four weeks or more - the first milestone on the way to permanently quitting.
Although the prevalence of smoking in the UK has declined significantly, it is still the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death, accounting for around 100,000 deaths every year. Smoking is also the principal cause of health inequality in England with smoking rates remaining stubbornly high in lower socio-economic groups and those with mental health problems or long-term health conditions.
Smoking causes at least 14 types of cancer and kills more than 200 people every day in England alone while tobacco use is estimated to cost society more than £13bn a year due to direct costs to the NHS and lost productivity caused by smoking-related illnesses. Meanwhile, according to Cancer Research, the tobacco industry makes a profit of more than £4,000 for every death caused by tobacco. In 2014, the total value of cigarette sales in the UK was more than £12bn.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer prevention, said: "For too long the tobacco industry has had an easy ride, making money without having to spend a single pound on the damage its products cause.
"It continues to profit from selling a highly addictive and lethal product that causes illness and death. Tobacco companies make billions of pounds every year, so we'd like to see them using their profits to keep stop smoking services open and fund advertising campaigns to help people quit.”
As local councils continue to feel the squeeze with ever tighter budget restrictions it is extremely concerning that despite the millions of UK smokers facing the threat of smoking-related illnesses and premature death, so many of these invaluable stop-smoking services are facing the axe.
The provision of these services saves costs even in the short-term as they leads to a reduction in the number of people visiting their GP as well as fewer unplanned hospital admissions, not to mention savings to the local economy due to less people having to take time off work. It is, therefore, imperative that the Government establishes a sustainable funding model to ensure that local authorities have the means to do everything they can to reduce smoking rates and prevent more people from developing illnesses like lung cancer.
If lung cancer is diagnosed early the chances of a positive outcome are significantly higher than if it is found later. Cancer develops through various stages and any delays in diagnosis or treatment due to errors such as x-rays, scans and tissue samples being misinterpreted can cause tumours to develop to a more critical stage, potentially having a devastating effect on any eventual outcome.
Rabia Ibrahim is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in London.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to medical negligence. For a free consultation call our medical negligence solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.