Azara Blog: NHS "stop smoking" clinics allegedly a success

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Date published: 2007/12/05

The BBC says:

NHS "stop smoking" clinics have been hailed a success after figures showed particular progress in deprived areas.

The study found 8.8% of smokers in poorer areas had quit at the four-week mark, compared with 7.8% elsewhere.

The comparison is particularly relevant as smoking is a key factor in health inequalities with those from deprived backgrounds more likely to smoke.

The Bath University-led team compiled the data from the 1.5m people using the clinics in England from 2003 to 2006.

Smoking cessation clinics, offering counselling and treatment in the form of nicotine replacement therapy, were set up in 1999.

Lead researcher Dr Linda Bault, who worked with experts from Edinburgh University, said: "Our study shows that the NHS stop smoking services are helping to reduce the health gap between rich and poor, which is good news for the overall health of the nation."

But she added stop smoking services had to be accompanied by the continued successful implementation of smoking bans and rises in tobacco prices to have a wider effect.

The study, published in the Tobacco Control journal, compared data from smokers who accessed services in officially designated disadvantaged areas, called spearhead areas which have received extra funds and cover just over a quarter of the population, and compared them with other areas of the country.

The study found that quit rates were slightly lower for smokers from spearhead areas, at 53% at four weeks compared with 58% elsewhere.

But it added the services were treating them in larger numbers as a proportion of overall smokers than their more affluent neighbours, 17% compared with 13% elsewhere.

The overall effect was that a higher proportion of smokers in the more disadvantaged areas were successful in quitting.

Although previous research has shown that of those who quit after a month, less than one in four were still not smoking by the year-mark.

The first paragraph in the story is just propaganda. And the headline figures in the second paragraph are misleading. So after slogging through eight glowing paragraphs, we find in the ninth paragraph that in fact the "quit" rate in more "disadvantaged" areas was worse, and it's only because they saw many more people in the "disadvantaged" areas that the absolute numbers happened to be what they were. So yes, if you throw a lot more money at something you get a better absolute rate. The fact that the lead researcher is willing to mouth crude propaganda ("NHS stop smoking services are helping to reduce the health gap between rich and poor") in spite of the worse relative rate, tells you that the researchers have an agenda.

And needless to say, the article does not mention at all the cost of the scheme. So was it value for money? Well, since prevention is normally cheaper than cure, the scheme was almost certainly value for money. But someone independent should verify this. If the "less than one in four" figure mentioned at the end is correct, then of the 1.5m people seen in the clinics, perhaps 2%, or 30k people, were still not smoking after a year, and 1470k people were still smoking. This does not look like a great "success".

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