The NHS will continue to fund the “most effective smoking cessation intervention in the UK” following a furious letter from dozens of public health bodies and royal colleges.

The 24 organisations, including the Faculty of Public Health and Royal College of Physicians, wrote to health secretary Andy Burnham last month expressing concern that the Department of Health was threatening to withdraw funding from No Smoking Day.

It almost says we don’t think smoking is as important as it was. That’s very wrong and would be an own goal

The letter, seen by HSJ, said the £250,000 grant was “essential to the continued existence of the charity”.

It adds: “We believe No Smoking Day to be the most effective smoking cessation intervention in the UK, if not internationally.”

Research showed it costs just £26 per life year saved, compared with £658 for combined interventions involving nicotine replacement therapy, specialist cessation services and advice.

One in 10 smokers attempt to quit on No Smoking Day and almost 20 per cent are still not smoking two months later, the letter says.

Faculty of Public Health president Alan Maryon-Davies told HSJ the NHS was focusing on alcohol, obesity, pandemic flu and global warming more than smoking.

Professor Mayon-Davies said: “The service is pushing smoking down the agenda even though it’s the biggest avoidable killer and has a huge impact on health inequalities.”

Cutting the funding would have sent the wrong signal to commissioners, he said.

He said: “It almost says we don’t think smoking is as important as it was. That’s very wrong and would be an own goal.”

The DH has now confirmed it will fund No Smoking Day at “around the same level” as last year, on a regional basis.

As HSJ went to press all but one region had agreed to the funding. A DH spokeswoman said: “The funding for No Smoking Day 2010 is in place. We remain committed to improving public health and encouraging people to stop smoking.”