UK government looks to halve number of smokers by 2020

New tobacco strategy

The UK government has published a new tobacco control strategy today, which it claims establishes a vision of eradicating tobacco harms and creating a smoke free future.

The White Paper, Choosing Health: Making healthier choices easier, (building on the 1998 White Paper Smoking Kills) follows on from a public consultation in 2008 on the future of tobacco control.

The strategy sets out three key objectives towards a smoke free society:

1. To stop the inflow of young people recruited as smokers

2. To motivate and assist every smoker to quit

3. To protect families and communities

And, it includes targets for each objective including halving the numbers of adult smokers to one in 10 by 2020, and reducing the number of children who take up smoking.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “The Government has made massive progress on tobacco over the past decade. Ten years ago, millions more people smoked and many have died early as a result.

“We’ve come so far and now we’ll go even further – to push forward and save even more lives. Today’s strategy renews our commitment to virtually eradicate the health harms caused by smoking, and I firmly believe we can halve smoking by 2020. In 10 years’ time, only one in 10 people will smoke.”

According to the health department, smoking remains the main cause of preventable disease and premature death in the UK. In England, over 80,000 deaths per year are due to smoking and about 8.5m people smoke in England today.

The Department’s tobacco programme is split into six strands, which each contribute to the overall reduction in smoking, it says.

They include plans to tackle illicit trade and explore whether plain packaging will help to limit youth smoking.

Burnham said: “Government should and will do everything in its power to protect young people. This includes putting a stop to cheap tobacco that is smuggled into the country by organised criminal gangs,” he said.

“Most smokers start before they are 18, so we have to discourage children and young people from ever starting. Now that we’ve banned advertising and will soon see an end to attractive displays in shops, the only remaining method of advertising tobacco is the packaging. So we will carefully consider whether there is evidence for making tobacco companies use plain packets.”

Commenting on the the Government’s decision to look closer at plain packaging, James Lowman, chief executive at the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), said: “Selling plain packets would not affect retailers. However if this is something Government is going to implement, we would question why they are also continuing with the tobacco display ban. There are also concerns around the impact on the illicit trade which Government will need to address.”

The ACS said tackling the illicit tobacco trade, which targets the most disadvantaged communities, must be the number one aim of the Government’s tobacco policy.

“While the strategy does look to do more at tackling the illicit trade overseas, it still does not address the issue of black market racketeers on the street,” said Lowman. “There needs to be a focus on inland enforcement, spearheaded by new tougher penalties for bootleggers and greater investment,” he said.

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA) said it welcomed any new initiatives to crack down on the illicit trade but control measures, such as the tobacco display ban, do nothing to meet public health policy objectives but impose further unwarranted restrictions on legitimate businesses and private citizens alike.

Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the TMA, said: “Rigorous application of proof of age requirements is a proven way of reducing youth smoking. The focus on measures that are not backed up by any credible evidence is a distraction from the need to enforce existing laws.

“It is contradictory to declare an intention to reduce illicit trade and then to favour ineffective measures, such as the display ban, that actually facilitate illicit trade.

The Government’s dictatorial approach to tobacco control is hardly conducive to changing consumer lifestyle choices.”