ELECTRONIC cigarettes are believed to be behind a steady fall in the number of smokers turning to NHS quitting services for help.

The latest figures for Scotland show that the number of "quit attempts" made with the help of NHS smoking cessation services has fallen for the fifth year in a row.

Only three out of 14 health boards - NHS Western Isles, Forth Valley and Shetland - met their targets for cessation.

Read more: Electronic cigarettes 'definitely less harmful than tobacco'

In 2016/17, there were 59,767 quit attempts recorded in Scotland, down 51 per cent on 2011/12 and eight per cent year-on-year. Some of these may be the same smoker signing up to the service more than once if they fail to quit or subsequently begin smoking again.

In its report on the statistics, ISD Scotland said: "The reasons for the fall in quit attempts is likely to be the result of a combination of factors, including increasing use of electronic cigarettes, which may be viewed as a step towards quitting."

Smoking cessation services can provide smokers with interventions such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy products, or drugs shown to reduce cravings. Smokers can also attend quitting support groups or receive one-to-one support in person or over the telephone.

After 12 weeks, 23 per cent of those making a quit attempt reported that they were still not smoking.

Read more: Scotland launches first trial into safety of e-cigarettes for pregnant women

The Western Isles recorded the highest success rate for quitting after 12 weeks, at 55 per cent, while in NHS Lothian and Tayside only 19 per cent of smokers had not returned to cigarettes after three months.

Smoking prevalence continues to differ significantly across different socioeconomic groups. In the most deprived areas of Scotland, 34 per cent of the population smokes compared to just one in ten people living in the least deprived postcodes.

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “This new report tells us that Smoking Cessation Services are failing to reach enough people in Scotland.

"It’s crucial that smokers get the best possible help to quit a deadly habit that causes at least 14 different types of cancer.

"How to help smokers stop needs to be at the heart of the Scottish Government’s updated tobacco strategy which is expected soon. Smoking cessation services are vital as they’re much more successful at helping people quit than will power alone.

"With around 18 per cent of adults in Scotland smoking, helping them to give up is essential to the health of our nation."

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “These figures should be considered in the context of a significant reduction in smoking prevalence. 

“The recently published Scottish Health Survey showed that 21 per cent of adults now smoke - a drop of four percentage points since 2012.

“Quitting smoking is the best thing a smoker can do to improve their health.  We continue to ensure that the right type of support is in place through our cessation services, including supporting people to select aids to suit their own needs. 

“The new Tobacco Strategy, which will be published in 2018, will focus on addressing health inequalities and targeting smoking rates in the communities where people find it most difficult to quit.”