The number of Scots trying to quit cigarettes has fallen to a record low, sparking concerns over the flagship ambition to create a “tobacco-free” generation by 2034.
The alarming statistic has been revealed as funding was cut to smoking cessation campaigns by the Scottish Government. There are now concerns from anti-smoking activists about the commitment to future funding after the national tobacco strategy “ran out” at the end of March.
About one in five Scots, equivalent to 850,000 adults, are still lighting up and numbers have stabilised in recent years following a decade of steady decline.
Public health minister Aileen Campbell is now facing calls to guarantee future funding amid growing concerns of “complacency” towards the issue.
Ministers insist funding levels of £10 million annually have been maintained in wider “stop-smoking services” across Scotland since 2013.
Scotland has been a pioneer in tackling high levels of smoking. It was the first part of the UK to introduce the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants in 2006. Two years ago it was made illegal to light up in cars with children as passengers.
But official figures show 59,767 people sought to quit the habit in 2016/17, the lowest since records started. This is down from 121,386 in 2011/12, with numbers having been falling steadily in the intervening years.
At the same time, spending on smoking cessation campaigns fell from £588,000 in 2015/16 to £133,977 last year.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland, said smoking was the “largest preventable cause of death” in Scotland.
“More than 10,000 people die due to tobacco use every year and with smoking rates flatlining over the past few years, it’s vital that we encourage and support people to quit,” she said.
“We call on the public health minister to maintain and inflation proof the Scottish Government’s tobacco budget as part of the next tobacco strategy. Some people do find it hard to quit smoking, but others find it easier than they thought it would be.
“Different things work for different people, so it’s vitally important that people who smoke find a method of quitting that works for them.
“Expert NHS advice can help you quit your way and mass media advertising can support people to know what help is available.”
The Scottish Government’s Tobacco Strategy ‘Creating a Tobacco-free Generation’, launched in 2013, ran out at the end of March. The charity has concerns over the commitment to maintain funding over the next five-year period.
Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of death in Scotland, claiming the lives of 4,000 people last year. Smoking rates among people from deprived areas are significantly higher than in wealthier parts.
The Scottish Government wants to create a “tobacco-free generation”, defined as smoking prevalence of 5 per cent or lower among adults, by 2034.
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “These figures show complacency is beginning to creep in.
“It’s clear that a significant reduction in funding for smoking cessation has coincided with a big fall in smokers who try to quit.
“It’s essential we don’t allow that to slip. Quitting smoking is a very difficult thing to do and, when people want to do so, it’s important the NHS is on hand to support them.
“I hope the SNP government addresses this issue next year and places more importance on smoking cessation than it is currently doing.”
Mr Briggs has now written to Scottish ministers seeking answers. There was a significant fall in smoking among all Scots adults in the decade between 2003 and 2013, which coincided with the smoking ban as prevalence dropped significantly from 28 per cent to 21 per cent, the latest Scottish Health Survey published last year found.
Since then, however, levels have remained static at 21-22 per cent. Patterns were similar among men and women, stabilising in recent years after a downward trend.
The number of cigarettes consumed a day by adult smokers has dropped on average from 15.3 in 2003 to 12.6 in 2015. It remained around this level (12.7) in 2016.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the money allocated to cessation campaigns was only “a very small percentage” of the total funding for services to help Scots quit smoking. “We have maintained funding for health boards for stop-smoking services since 2013 at around £10 million,” she added.
“The number of people attempting to quit is falling across the UK. Indeed, it has fallen twice as fast in England than in Scotland since 2015.
“Quitting is the single most important action a smoker can do to improve their health. We would encourage any smoker to try quitting their own way and to make use of the free stop-smoking support available to help them.”