‘Flatlining’ stop smoking service blamed on lack of medicines

Efforts to help people stop smoking are being undermined by the unavailability of key medicines, councillors have heard.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive heard while the authority’s public health team had seen improvements in the numbers of people quitting since taking its stop smoking service in-house, fewer people were using the service due to “no access to Varenicline (Champix) or Bupropion (Zyban)”.

The medicine issue was highlighted by the authority’s scrutiny of health committee chair, Councillor Andrew Lee, referred to performance figures which he said showed the council’s stop smoking results were “flatlining a little bit”.

According to Public Health England statistics in 2021, Harrogate and Scarborough have the highest smoking prevalence across North Yorkshire with 14.4 per cent and 13.6 per cent respectively.

Smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable ill health and premature death in the county and is a key driver of health inequalities.

Nearly 3,000 deaths in North Yorkshire between 2014 and 2016 were estimated to be attributable to smoking.

Analysts say the government’s target for England to become smoke-free by 2030 is being significantly hampered by the unavailability of smoking cessation medicines, and in particular “nicotine receptor partial agonists”.

Medicines such as Varenicline work by stopping nicotine from binding to receptors in the brain and reducing the rewarding effects of smoking.

When asked to explain why the number of people stopping smoking had tailed off, health and adult services director Richard Webb said there had been an improved level of quitting since the council had taken the service back in-house, before he pointed to the lack of medicines.

An officer’s report to the executive meeting stated quit rates were remaining low compared to previous years.

It stated the reductions in people accessing the service had been “largely driven by the limited access to stop smoking medications over the course of the last 18 months”.

The report stated although e-cigarettes have been an option as a stop smoking tool since July this year, e-cigarettes were only available via the Living Well Smokefree service and not through primary or secondary care, as
well as not being available for pregnant smokers.

It added: “Whilst it is still too early to quantify if this has influenced referral rates into the service and therefore successful quits, it will be interesting to compare to previous years and previous quarters to establish this if this is the case.

“We also expect the return of medications to market that support an individual to stop smoking.”

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