A 41 per cent cut in Department of Health funding for smoking cessation advertising last year was accompanied by a marked drop in the numbers of quitters, figures obtained by HSJ can reveal.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the government spent only£13.5m on advertising trying to encourage smokers to quit the habit last year, compared with£22.7m in 2005-06.

This dramatic drop in advertising spend coincides with a marked fall in the number of people giving up smoking last year.

According to smoking cessation figures from the Information Centre for health and social care, nearly 76,000 people had quit smoking for at least four weeks from April to June 2005, compared with only 66,000 for the same quarter in 2006 the latest comparable figures.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking campaign group ASH, said it was 'not surprising that stopping mass media advertising had led to the numbers of quitters drying up'.

'The conclusion from numerous studies from all round the world is that the key to success is maintaining a consistent and sustained level of advertising over time about how and why you need to quit. This is hardly surprising, given this is the lesson of commercial advertising. Why should it be any different for social marketing?' she said.

Ms Arnott warned that unless the DoH continued to spend money on smoking cessation, combined with other measures, there would be no impact on the percentage of those smoking when the ban on smoking in public places is introduced in England in July.

'This could be a real opportunity wasted. If they don't continue to advertise there could be no impact at all, the ban will only work to reduce smoking prevalence if other mechanics are in place,' she said.

Association of Directors of Public Health president Tim Crayford said: 'The severe reduction in advertising funding has been a sad experiment in how valuable these campaigns are. The NHS has got to consider where its priorities lie.'

However a DoH spokeswoman said: 'Adult smoking rates in. England are the lowest on record and indicate the government is on track to meet the overall target of. 21 per cent smoking prevalence. in 2010.'

'There is a major advertising campaign under way in the run-up to the introduction of the ban. We expect many people to see this as a motivation to quit,' she said.