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Why are people getting less help to quit?

Rachael from our policy team asks why people aren't getting the support they need to quit smoking.

Smoking is one of the hardest addictions to quit. For many people, it takes lots of tries to stop smoking for good. But help is out there. And getting support is really important. People are more likely to succeed in stopping if they get help from a GP, pharmacist or specialist stop smoking advisor. 

But for our latest report Less help to quit, I've been looking into how the NHS prescribes help to quit: treatments like nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) — including patches, gum and sprays — and medications that help you to deal with the cravings.

What we found is shocking. Fewer people every year are being given treatments that help them to quit from their GP or pharmacist. That means treatments aren't available to everyone that needs them.

In fact, the number of treatments prescribed in England has fallen by three quarters. In Wales, the number of items has fallen by two thirds, and in Scotland they fell by 40% in just 2 years. 

People are no longer getting the best help to quit smoking

This means that lots of people are no longer getting the best help to quit smoking, even when they ask for it from their GP. 

We think that's unfair. And it shows there are thousands of opportunities to encourage patients to quit smoking which are probably being missed.  

We think that all smokers should have access to these treatments through their GP. Using medication alongside counselling from a trained professional will boost your chances of quitting by up to 4 times.  

Why are fewer people getting these treatments?  

The number of people smoking has continued to drop, from 19.8% in 2011 to 14.9% in 2017. That's great news, but we need it to continue. And there's a problem. The fall in stop smoking items being prescribed is much larger that the fall in levels of smoking. That means that lots of people are missing out. 

Less help to quit: what's happening to stop smoking prescriptions across Britain July 2018

So why is this happening? The main reason is that there's less government funding for stop smoking services.  

In some areas, the people who plan services and pay for GPs – called NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – have told their GPs to stop prescribing all stop smoking items. 

We want the UK government to reverse cuts to public health funding so stop smoking services are fully funded and accessible. CCGs also need to stop telling GPs to stop prescribing stop smoking items, and encourage them to prescribe the appropriate and most effective medication.  

The NHS needs to give all of us the service we need. That means treating addiction to smoking the same way as any other serious illness.  People are getting less help to quit and that needs to change. 

Read the Less help to quit report

Need help to quit smoking? We've got a few tips which might help.

Read our quitting smoking information

Rachael from our policy team


I’m the tobacco policy lead at Asthma + Lung UK. This means I work with the UK government, and organisations like the NHS, to make sure they're doing what is right for people living with lung conditions. Before joining Asthma + Lung UK, I worked for a health equalities charity, where I helped make sure health services met the needs of LGBT people.


I have been refused Zyban to stop smoking. No reason given. The Dr said he would not prescribe it for stopping smoking. I used Zyban some 12 years ago and did stop smoking. Now I have to ask the question why the Dr refused when the NHS advertise it on their website as one of the treatments for stopping smoking.

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16 July 2018