ACTION to help smokers kick the habit is being speeded up in response to concerns that Wales-wide targets to cut tobacco use are not ambitious enough.

Provision of services to help stop smoking for pregnant women, improved access to services provided by pharmacies, and a new hospital smoking cessation service will all be introduced more quickly than envisaged by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which approved plans for such services only last January.

Concerns at progress toward cessation targets has been voiced by the Welsh Government, but a key issue for health boards across Wales has been how to ramp up the amount and quality of help available to smokers who would like to quit, at a time of widespread budget restraints.

But in Gwent, health bosses have revisited the proposals, and many will now be introduced by the end of this year, with most in place by September 2015.

The cost of introducing services for pregnant women, and in hospitals and pharmacies will be around £430,000.

A project to help pregnant women in Torfaen is continuing, and a service in Caerphilly will start this month. Pregnant women in Blaenau Gwent will be able to access a service from September, but one in Newport and Monmouthshire is not planned until September 2015.

There are three levels of cessation service pharmacies can offer, ranging from opportunistic advice for patients presenting prescriptions and participation in No Smoking Day and other campaigns (Level One); through supplying – with Nicotine Replacement Therapy, or NRT – and helping people who are receiving support and advice from Stop Smoking Wales (Level Two); to providing one-to-one assessments and NRT, and monitoring the latter’s use through a complete support service (Level Three).

Other Welsh health boards have invested in Level Three pharmacy services and Gwent’s health board will follow that path. Level Two services will be increased by 40 per cent, by this September.

Level Three accreditation will be increased from fiveto 31 by this September, and to 51 by next June.

Hospital smoking cessation services, targeting inpatients who are smokers, should start in September.