South West councils to stop funding smoking harm work, group says
A public health group which aims to reduce harm caused by tobacco and alcohol says it has been told its work can no longer be funded.
Public Health Action is contracted to 11 councils across the South West but has been told this will end in June due to "severe public health cuts".
The group said it was very disappointed to receive the termination notice.
Cancer Research UK said a "heavy price" would be paid but smokers' group Forest said the impact would be "negligible".
The Bristol-based group, formerly known as Smokefree South West, says it has helped thousands of people to give up smoking.
A spokesperson said they were proud of their contribution to reducing smoking in the region "to under 17%, the lowest ever".
But Cancer Research UK believes improvements like this are "at risk" without investment, and urged the councils to review whether they could maintain the regional programme.
The parliamentary group on smoking and health has also written to the 11 authorities asking them to meet urgently to discuss how funding might be secured in the future.
But Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "Taxpayers already pay for NHS smoking cessation services and national anti-smoking campaigns.
"When budgets are so tight, and other services are being cut, it's difficult to justify the use of public money to support yet another tobacco control group."
That view is not shared by George Butterworth, from Cancer Research UK, who said: "The NHS and other local services are already struggling to cope with rising demand caused by unhealthy behaviours like smoking and drinking alcohol.
"Local authorities have been repeatedly hit by national government cuts to the public health grant and they're being forced into making unpalatable decisions."
Councils contracted to work with Public Health Action:
- Bristol City Council
- Bath and North-East Somerset
- South Gloucestershire Council
- Gloucestershire County Council
- Somerset County Council
- Wiltshire Council
- Swindon Borough Council
- Cornwall Council
- Devon County Council
- Plymouth City Council
- Torbay Council