The number of people using smoking cessation services has fallen for the fourth consecutive year, according to figures from NHS Digital.
The data shows that during 2015/16 only 382,500 set a quit date with NHS Stop Smoking Services, representing a 15% decrease on the year before and a 37% decrease on 2005/06 figures.
The North West saw the largest decrease with 25% fewer people setting a date to quit smoking in 2015/16, while London had the lowest decrease at 8%.
The report also found that the number of people successfully quitting fell by 15% to 195,170.
The statistics follow the news earlier this year that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are cutting back on smoking cessation services as a result of public health funding cuts.
Dr Andy McEwen, executive director of the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) said: “The Stop Smoking Services provide a vital lifesaving service for smokers addicted to tobacco and the real difference they make to hundreds of thousands of people each year is shown by the latest figures.
“They are proven to be effective and cost-effective, and it’s therefore very worrying that some local authorities are downgrading or even decommissioning their services. Such an approach is short-sighted and will end up costing lives and harming communities.
“We need a fresh approach to measuring the success of the services with a focus on quality of care rather than simply the number of people they see, which is largely not under the control of the services.”
Most people chose to access smoking cessation services through their GP to the greatest effect, with the highest success rate at 49%.
However, GPs and other non-medical prescribers issued 100,000 fewer prescriptions for items to help people quit smoking in 2015/16 compared with the year before when 1.3 million prescriptions where written.
Of these items in 2015/16, 644,000 were for Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), 489,000 were for Varenicline and 21,000 were for Bupropion.
The total cost of all prescription items used to help people quit smoking was £33.2 million – down from £65.9 million five years ago.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health said: “Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society. Stop smoking services provide the support smokers need to quit successfully, but they are under threat from local authority budget cuts.
“The government needs to ensure that local authorities continue to be funded to provide specialist stop smoking services targeted at those with greatest need if they are to succeed in reducing health inequalities.
“The obesity strategy has not delivered, the government promised a new tobacco control strategy this summer which we await with interest. It needs to deliver if the Prime Minister is to succeed in her ambition to improve the life chances of the poorest in society.”