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30 June 2015, 15:21
The number of smokers trying to quit with the help of NHS services has fallen by almost a third, new figures have revealed.
People made 73,338 attempts to give up cigarettes using smoking cessation services last year according to provisional statistics, a fall of 31% from 2013.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking group ASH Scotland, described the drop as "alarming'' and suggested a new levy be brought in on tobacco companies to pay for increased advertising of the health services available on the NHS.
She spoke out after official figures from the health service showed that an estimated 7% of all smokers turned to the NHS for help to quit in 2014.
There was also a slight fall in the number of mothers-to-be trying to give up, with pregnant women making 2,876 quit attempts in 2014, a drop of 73 from the previous year.
While a report from the NHS says the reason for the fall in smokers seeking NHS support to quit is "not completely clear'', it adds that the rising use of electronic cigarettes "is a plausible explanation''.
Data from England shows a "marked increase in use of e-cigarettes for quitting'', with the report adding that "trends in Scotland may well be similar''.
Ms Duffy claimed, however, that NHS stop smoking services were "largely invisible'' due to a lack of advertising in recent years.
She said: "Scotland's NHS stop smoking services are expert and effective in helping smokers to quit.
"These services matter because tobacco is responsible for about a quarter of the recorded adult deaths in Scotland every year. Tobacco is the biggest preventable cause of death in our communities.
"I believe the lack of mass media advertising on smoking cessation over the last few years has left these vital services largely invisible to the people who need them most.
"With funding pressures on the NHS and government, it is time to put a health levy on tobacco company profits in order to fund mass media advertising and stop-smoking services to support the 70% of smokers who want to quit.''
Maureen Watt, minister for public health, said: "Evidence suggests that increased use of e-cigarettes has contributed to a reduction in the popularity of other methods of quitting smoking.
"Nevertheless, NHS stop smoking services continue to support significant numbers of smokers to give up this deadly habit.
"Importantly, the largest number of quit attempts have come from our most deprived areas, where smoking rates are highest. This proves that stop smoking services are effective in reaching deprived groups.''