CAMPAIGNERS have called for a levy on tobacco industry profits to fund mass media advertising of official smoking services as the numbers trying to quit using NHS assistance in Scotland fell by almost a third in a year.

Scots made 73,338 attempts to give up cigarettes using health service help last year according to provisional official figures, a fall of 31per cent from 2013.

It also reveals that there were 2,876 quit attempts made by pregnant women, a drop of 73 on 2013, although an NHS statistics report says this may be partly accounted for by incomplete submissions.

The NHS report says a "plausible explanation" for the fall in quit attempts through NHS services would be the rise in the use of e-cigarettes.

A poll carried out by the ASH Scotland anti-smoking charity in April 2014 found that 45 per cent of current smokers in Scotland had tried an e-cigarette in 2014, compared to only seven per cent in 2010.

Data from a survey done in England showed a "marked increase in use of e-cigarettes for quitting'' from around eight per cent of smokers trying to give up in 2012 to 35 per cent now, overtaking Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) for the first time as the most popular aid for giving up smoking. The report added that "trends in Scotland may well be similar''.

ASH Scotland, however, believed another major factor of the drop in the use of NHS smoking cessation services is a lack of promotion.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the anti-smoking charity, described the figures as "alarming" because they showed a "real, significant drop" in the number of people setting quit dates through stop smoking services.

"Some years ago the government decided there wasn't the funding to do mass media TV advertising of the kind that has driven people to use these services and take advantage of their expertise and the free support that is available," she said. "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.

"We need to look at that again and I am calling for a levy on tobacco company profits to support smokers to quit smoking and to fund mass media advertising of stop smoking services in Scotland."

Health organisations say smoking costs the NHS at least £2bn a year and a further £10.8bn in wider costs to society, including social-care costs of more than £1bn.

Ms Duffy added:"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."

The data shows that around seven per cent of the adult smoking population in Scotland made a quit attempt with an NHS smoking cessation service in 2014. In 2013 it was 10per cent.

The proportion of smokers using NHS smoking cessation services in individual NHS boards was highest in East Dunbartonshire (12 per cent) and East Renfrewshire (10.3 per cent) and lowest in the Western Isles (3.5 per cent) and Orkney (3.7 per cent).

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest added a tobacco levy would not work as it would "almost certainly be passed on to consumers forcing some smokers further into poverty".

He also pointed out that smokers wanting to give up were increasingly using e-cigarettes "which mimic the act of smoking, unlike nicotine patches and other quit smoking aids".

He added: "You can't force people to use NHS smoking cessation services so unless the public sector learns from the private sector and embraces products that encourage more smokers to switch from traditional cigarettes, the idea is doomed to fail."

Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association said: "Tobacco control measures such as a levy would cost the Treasury billions over the next parliament and would simply provide government funding for this group to continue lobbying the government. All this comes on top of a number of tobacco control measures that have not even been implemented, let alone evaluated.

"Aside from the unwarranted intrusion on individual freedoms, this continued drive to over-regulate the UK tobacco market will simply create greater opportunities for organised crime groups involved in smuggling on a massive scale. These proposals are an unprecedented, un-evidenced, dogmatic attack on a legal industry that would have hugely damaging consequences."

Maureen Watt, minister for public health, said the NHS stop smoking services continue to support "significant numbers of smokers" to give up despite the rise of the e-cigarette.

"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," she said.