Stop Smoking Services Are Reducing The UK’s Health Gap, Shows Study

Poorer people are quitting smoking in larger numbers than their better off neighbours, according to a new study.

Of the 1.5 million smokers supported by NHS stop smoking services between 2003 and 2006, researchers found that smokers from poorer areas were using these services – and successfully quitting – more often than those from more affluent communities.

They also found that the overall proportion of smokers from disadvantaged areas using these services was higher than those from more affluent parts of the country.

This shows that the NHS stop smoking services are helping to reduce inequalities in health caused by smoking, say researchers from the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group and the University of Edinburgh.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill health and death in the UK, and the single biggest cause of inequalities in health,” said Dr Linda Bauld from the University of Bath, who collaborated with Professor Ken Judge from the University’s School for Health and Professor Steve Platt from the University of Edinburgh.

“It accounts for more than half of the excess risk of premature death between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups in the UK.

“Our study shows that the NHS stop smoking services are helping to reduce the health gap between rich and poor, which is good news for the overall health of the nation.

“However, the contribution of stop smoking services to achieving ambitious government targets to reduce inequalities in health is likely to be modest.

“It is important that wider tobacco control measures, in particular successful implementation of the recent ban on smoking in public places, and rises in tobacco taxes, are pursued if more significant reductions in smoking-related inequalities are to be achieved. “

NHS stop smoking services were established in 1999 to help smokers to quit. They offer smokers counselling from trained advisers, one to one or in groups, plus access to cessation medications such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

The study, published this week in the journal Tobacco Control, used data from 1.5 million smokers who were treated by NHS stop smoking services in the three-year period between April 2003 and March 2006.

It compared data from smokers who accessed services in officially designated disadvantaged areas (called Spearhead areas) compared with other parts of England.

The study found that although quit rates were slightly lower for smokers from Spearhead areas (52.6 per cent at four weeks compared with 57.9 per cent elsewhere) services were treating them in larger numbers than their more affluent neighbours (16.7 per cent of smokers in Spearhead areas were treated, compared with 13.4 per cent elsewhere).

The overall effect was that a higher proportion of smokers in the more disadvantaged areas were successful in quitting (8.8 per cent) than those in more affluent areas (7.8 per cent).

Bauld, L, Judge, K and Platt, S (2007) Assessing the impact of smoking cessation services on reducing health inequalities in England: observational study, Tobacco Control, 16, 6, 400-404. Please click here.

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