Tobacco control plan aims for 'smoke- free generation'

A cigarette stubbed out in an ashtray
A cigarette stubbed out in an ashtray

England can become "smoke free", ministers have said, as they announced plans to cut the number of smokers.

Unveiling its new Tobacco Control Plan, the Government set out a range of targets aimed at adult smokers, teenagers and pregnant women.

It wants to cut smoking rates among adults to 12% or under by 2022, from 15.5% at present.

Smoking among 15-year-olds who regularly smoke should also drop by 2022 from 8% to 3% or less.

Ministers also want to almost halve smoking in pregnancy by 2022, from 10.7% at present to 6% or under.

The Government said it wants to set a "bold ambition for a smoke-free generation" as it unveiled its plan for England.

Being "smoke free" means that smoking rates fall to 5% or under, with one in 20 people or fewer smoking.

Under the plan, local areas will be encouraged to develop their own tobacco control strategies and local smoke-free pregnancy champions will encourage mothers-to-be to quit.

There will also be a focus on using e-cigarettes and other stop-smoking devices as aids to quitting.

Public Health England (PHE) will update its evidence report on e-cigarettes and other devices annually until the end of 2022 and include messages about the relative safety of e-cigarettes in stop-smoking campaigns.

Ministers will also use the UK's exit from the EU to "identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health".

The report said this would include looking again at the Tobacco Products Directive, including as it applies to e-cigarettes.

Other measures announced include more help for smokers working in the NHS to quit, and working towards a "completely smoke-free NHS estate".

There will also be more help for smokers with mental health problems - figures show that more than 40% of adults with a serious mental illness smoke.

All mental health inpatient services sites will also aim to be smoke free by 2018, and prisons will get more support to become smoke free.

There are currently 7.3 million adult smokers in England and more than 200 people a day die from a smoking-related illness which could have been prevented.

The difference in life expectancy between the poorest and the richest can be as much as nine years - with smoking accounting for about half of this difference.

Public health minister Steve Brine said: "Britain is a world leader in tobacco control, and our tough action in the past decade has seen smoking rates in England fall to an all-time low of 15.5%.

"But our vision is to create a smoke-free generation.

"Smoking continues to kill hundreds of people a day in England, and we know the harms fall hardest on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society."

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: "We are at a pivotal point where an end is in sight and a smoke-free generation a reality.

"But the final push, reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, will undoubtedly be the hardest.

"Only by everyone pulling together can we hope to end the loss of life and suffering smoking has wreaked for far too long. Public Health England will do everything possible to make this happen."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said: "Funding must be found if the Government is to achieve its vision of a 'smoke-free generation'.

"The tobacco industry should be made to pay through a licence fee on the 'polluter pays' principle.

"Tobacco manufacturers are some of the most profitable companies on earth; they can easily afford the costs of radical action to drive down smoking rates."

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said: "The most important stakeholder is the consumer, yet they are routinely ignored by Government.

"Ministers should stop lecturing smokers and engage with them."

He added: "The Tobacco Control Plan should include a systematic review of the impact of measures such as the display ban and plain packaging.

"It's time too to question the use of public money to fund stop-smoking services and other anti-smoking campaigns."

The British Medical Association's board of science chairman Professor Parveen Kumar said: "If we're to stop the 79,000 annual deaths in England attributed to smoking, smoking cessation services and tobacco control measures must be adequately funded, yet local authorities are reducing stop-smoking budgets, merging services into unwieldy departments or cutting services altogether.

"Cuts to these highly cost-effective services will only increase health inequalities and demand on tomorrow's GP surgeries and hospital wards."