Much the most effective anti-smoking policy for councils to adopt would be to allow vaping on their premises. They should allow this both for their own staff and for their residents who are visiting libraries, housing offices, and town halls. Andrew Allison has written on this site about the prospect of being harmed from “passive vaping”. I have challenged my own Council on its vaping ban – and got a pretty feeble response.

Ending the ban would not cost Councils anything. If anything it would save money as fewer of their staff would smoke and would thus be more productive – both as they would be healthier and also would cease wandering off to stand outside shivering to have a fag break.

Instead councils spend vast sums on anti-smoking campaigns that are astonishingly ineffective. Little scrutiny is given to such spending as the funding for it comes from Councils’ Public Health budgets. This is “ring-fenced” funding from central government rather than something raised from Council Tax. This is £2.6 billion which is largely wasted.

The anti-smoking element is just an example. I have obtained some figures from my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Thrive Tribe is given £1.19 million from my Council’s Public Health budget “for the provision of a stop smoking (quits and prevention) service”. The contract was from 01/01/2014 – 31/12/2017.

So how many have quit?

It depends what you mean by “quit” of course. But in 2016/17 those in my borough who said they had stopped smoking for at least 12 week came to 21 residents. How many would have given up smoking anyway? How many have since started up again? How many hadn’t really given up even for the 12 weeks but didn’t like to admit it? So the figure of 21 might be an exaggeration. On the other hand no figures seem to be available for the previous two years. Nor for those who have quit since April this year. So on that basis the tally may well be higher than 21.

Anyway let’s assume that it is 21 of my fellow Hammersmith and Fulham residents who have permanently quit smoking and who would not otherwise have done so. The cost works out at £55,571 each. Even in the very stiff competition provided in the public sector that is staggeringly poor value for money. Yet I am not assuming that the anti-smoking element is any more wasteful than other items in the Public Health budget. Nor that Hammersmith and Fulham is untypical with such dire performance. Just ask for the equivalent figures for your own Council.

What this does show is that the market has come up with an innovative and cost-effective solution – while the municipal alternative is to spend a fortune of our money on alternatives which fail.