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Publish new tobacco plan as a priority, government urged

Call comes on eve of 10-year anniversary of introduction of UK smoke-free regulations

Caroline White

Friday, 30 June 2017

The government should publish its new Tobacco Control Plan as “an urgent priority,” the chair of the British Thoracic Society’s (BTS) Lung Group has said.

The call comes on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the introduction of smoke-free regulations in the UK.

Dr Sanjay Agrawal welcomes the recent figure showing a fall in UK smoking rates but he says: "There is still much work to do in protecting the health of this and future generations from the harms of tobacco.”

The government should waste no time publishing its new Tobacco Control Plan as its absence constitutes a “huge hole” in health policy, he says, going on to argue that a strong, well-funded national strategy to support people to stub out their tobacco dependence is vital to achieving a healthier nation.

And it would deliver significant, future cost-savings for the NHS, to boot.

The government’s last plan has helped reduce smoking levels to 15.8% of adults across the UK. But it ran out 18 months ago, in December 2015, and no publication date for a new one has yet been set. 

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death, and every day since the last tobacco control plan expired, hundreds of under 16s have taken up smoking.

“I welcome the recent fall in smoking rates [which] will save many lives,” said Dr Agrawal. “But young people are still taking up smoking, and every day on my ward rounds I see people struggling for breath with lung diseases caused by their tobacco dependence.”

He continued: “Yet, each day goes by without news of the new national strategy we urgently need. The government must map out how we will fund and support more smokers to quit and protect our children from tobacco addiction in the future.”

The new plan needed to cover several key issues, he said.

These include key actions to achieve a truly smoke-free NHS, given that a recent BTS audit showed NHS hospitals across UK are falling “woefully short” of national standards on helping smokers to quit and enforcing smoke-free premises.

The BTS wants national health and care regulators such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to be given the responsibility to hold hospital boards to account on the issue.

Continued investment in high-profile national awareness campaigns is needed to prompt and support people to quit, as well as strong investment in NHS stop smoking support services locally. Using an NHS service has been shown to make the chance of quitting four times more likely.

And specific plans are needed to help support particular groups and communities with very high smoking rates to quit tobacco, including people with mental issues.

“Smoking still kills over 250 people every day in UK. It costs the NHS in England approximately £2 billion a year to treat diseases [it causes], and the cost to wider society is estimated at £12.9 billion a year. It causes devastation to people’s lives and yet there is no current national plan to address the issue,” Dr Agrawal emphasised.

“The NHS must walk the talk and implement national guidance and be completely smoke-free, offering support to every hospital patient who smokes to help them quit. This is a huge health and economic opportunity that we are missing out on at present,” he added.

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