THOUSANDS of smokers have quit by using the NHS stop smoking service in Hampshire and Southampton, according to the latest figures.

In the 12 months from April 2017 to March this year, 4,701 people in Hampshire signed up with the NHS Stop Smoking Service and set themselves a date to quit. At follow up meetings four weeks later 2,691 people said they had given up, according to data from NHS England. That’s 57%, which is above the average rate for England of 51% during the period. The average for the South East was 51%. In Southampton over the same period 791 people in Southampton signed and set themselves a date to quit. At follow up meetings 381 people said they had given up - 48%

The success rate is based on self-reported results of people who said that they hadn’t had a puff for two weeks since their quit date.

But 39% in Hampshire and 20% in Southampton of those who set a date proved they’d kicked the habit by having a test that checks carbon monoxide in their bloodstream.

The Stop Smoking Service has been provided by councils rather than the NHS since 2013. It offers support with one-to-one counselling or group sessions. Medicines that help with nicotine cravings can also be prescribed, while some people also use over the counter products. The data shows that 16 quitters succeeded with a cold turkey approach with no chemical substitutes for cigarettes.

The total cost of the service in Hampshire was £2,128,177, which is equivalent to £791 for each person that quit. In Southampton it costs £456,341 - £1,198 for each person that quit. Latest figures from Public Health England show that 14% of the adult population of Hampshire are smokers and 17% in Southampton.

The number of people using the service across the country has been falling and it went down compared to the previous 12 month period in Hampshire.

The campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says that the popularity of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting explains some of the decline in users of the service across England but not all of it. They say tighter council budgets, less publicity nationally about services and an apparent reduction in GPs prompting people to take up the service may also be to blame.

Hazel Cheeseman, from ASH, said: “We want to see investment going back into funding these services through local authorities. We need the NHS to step up in its referral of people to stop smoking services and we’d like to see greater investment in mass media campaigns to make smokers aware of these services.”

Martin Dockrell, tobacco control lead at PHE said: “If you’re not a smoker, don’t start and don’t vape. If you’re a smoker, quit now and consider using an e-cigarette as an aid. Using an e-cigarette along with support from your local stop smoking service gives you the best chance of quitting successfully.”