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Government pledges to cut smoking prevalence to 12% by 2022

Long awaited new tobacco control plan sets sight on pregnant women and teens

Caroline White

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The UK government has pledged to drive down smoking prevalence among adults to 12%, halve smoking in pregnancy rates, and cut the proportion of teens who smoke regularly, within the next five years, under plans,* published yesterday.

The plan specifically commits to cut smoking prevalence among adults from the current 15.5% to 12% by 2022; reduce the number of 15-year-olds who smoke regularly from 8% to 3% or less, and halve the smoking in pregnancy rate from the current 10% to 6% or less.

The previous plan expired at the end of 2015, and pressure has been mounting from parliament and public health experts for the government to renew its commitment to get tough on smoking.

It pledges to continue to use mass media campaigns to promote smoking cessation and raise awareness of the harms of smoking, and to narrow the health inequalities gap in smoking prevalence between those in routine and manual jobs and the general population.

The difference in life expectancy between people in the poorest and richest social groups in England is about nine years on average, and the difference in smoking rates accounts for about half this difference.

All health professionals will have access to training on how to help patients quit, and greater effort will be focused on smokers with mental health issues, it says.

The plan commits to comprehensive smokefree policies, including integrated tobacco dependence treatment pathways, in all mental health services by 2018 plus improved data collection and analysis on smoking and mental health.

And it promises to maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking and promote links to smoking cessation services across health and social care and full implementation of all relevant NICE guidelines by 2022.

The plan calls for a shift in emphasis from national to local action in order to achieve the vision of a “smokefree generation,” defined as a smoking prevalence of 5% or less.

But there are fears that without extra cash for public health, the plan’s ambitions will be hard to achieve.

A recent analysis by think tank the King’s Fund found that in 2017-18 local authority funding for wider tobacco control faces cuts of more than 30% with stop smoking services one of the top four services in absolute planned cuts.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “Cuts to public health budgets have left local authorities in a very difficult position and struggling to deliver the necessary stop smoking services. It is worrying that this was not addressed at all in the plan.

“The sustainability of the NHS is at stake if demand - caused by preventable factors like smoking - isn’t reduced. Cuts to the public health grant must be halted and councils given the funding they need to deliver vital support to help more smokers quit.”

BMA Board of Science chair Professor Parveen Kumar, agreed. “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,” he said.

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

ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott suggested that industry should be made to pay. “The tobacco industry should be made to pay a 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,” she said.

* Towards a smoke-free generation: a tobacco control plan for England. Department of Health, July 2017.

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