ASH blames adspend freeze for failures to quit smoking
The number of people who successfully give up smoking has dropped by a third since the Government halted its anti-smoking advertising.
New Department of Health figures are the first to reveal the impact of the Coalition's decision to freeze adspend as part of the £6 billion of cuts it announced last May.
Between January and March last year, the Government spent £861,000 on its anti-smoking campaign and 124,792 people successfully quit the habit with the help of the NHS.
When the budget dropped to just £26,000 between April and June, the number who gave up fell to 85,749. There was a further drop in the next three months to 76,504, when no ads appeared - 38 per cent down on the first three months of the year.
There was a similar reduction of 34 per cent in the number of smokers who set a date for kicking the habit over the same period.
Martin Dockrell, the director of policy and research at Action on Smoking and Health, said: "It has been a false economy. Mass-media campaigns are very cost- effective in terms of life years gained. They quickly reduce the pressure on the NHS."
Look Martin, I know you don't credit the British public with much intelligence but we're not complete morons. The quit-rate peaked between January and March because giving up smoking has been the #1 New Years Resolution since Methuselah was a bairn.
This is so obvious that it barely merits confirmation, but just to be sure, let's check with the NHS:
With regard to monthly quit attempts made, numbers were highest in January (note: the start of the year is the most popular time for people to attempt to quit, e.g. New Year’s resolution), followed by March, then February.
Yup, thought so. The first quarter is the busiest time of the year for smoking cessation services with or without the government spending vast sums of money. And the reason the government spends the most money on smoking cessation in January is because that's when there's most demand for it. Inevitably, the quit rate tapers off in the second quarter and then again in the third quarter.
It's not rocket science and it happens every year.
If we look at the figures from 2009, we can see this quite clearly:
Number of successful quitters in 2009: 2010 figures in brackets (NHS England)
January-March 2009: 120,935 (124,792)
April-June: 89,358 (85,749)
July-September: 79,842 (76,504)
2009, you may recall, was a time when the government was spending money like a sailor on shore leave. Lo and behold, there was a big peak in the first three months of the year, then the numbers dropped in the second quarter and there was a further drop in the third quarter. In fact, we can see that the numbers "dropped by a third" between the first and third quarter, just as they did when not a single penny was spent advertising these services.
So what we have here is a natural experiment. Despite drastically reduced budgets—down to £0.00 in the third quarter of 2010—the quit rate was almost identical to what it had been when Gordon Brown was engaging in his scorched earth policy with the public finances.
This is good news for the taxpayer, because it tells us that we can save money on quit-smoking adverts without reducing the number of people quitting. So thank you Martin Dockrell for bringing this to our attention. All the government needs to do now is stop funding of ASH—whose policies have been consistently ineffective in reducing the smoking rate—and we can really start celebrating.
(I'm pleased to see that no newspaper has felt moved to cover this 'story'. Perhaps bullshit fatigue is finally setting in when it comes to ASH.)