The rate at which people are quitting smoking has slowed down at the same time as economic worries have increased, data suggests.

A survey found that the number of smokers has been on the decline, partly fuelled by the smoking ban in 2007.

However, the rate of quitting slowed down when the recession hit the UK in the latter half of 2008, and there has been little change since.

In 2007, 32% of smokers in England said they had tried to quit within the previous three months.

This fell to 23% in 2008, 22% in 2009 and stood at 17% at the end of October 2010.

Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies at the Cancer Research UK health behaviour research centre, said: “As the country tightens its financial belt, we’ve seen the number of smokers trying to quit slow down.

“While no-one can be sure about the cause and effect with data of this kind, this could be another very damaging impact of the financial crisis.”

Professor West’s report also found that fewer than 5% of smokers use NHS stop smoking services, which have been found to be much more effective than quitting alone.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “Later this year the Department of Health will issue a white paper on public health.

“This is an opportunity to give a serious shot in the arm to tobacco control.

“We need to pay close attention to the evidence on what helps smokers to quit if we are to give hope and encouragement to the 70% of smokers who want to stop.”