The Government has announced plans to further cut smoking rates and create Britain’s “first smoke-free generation”.
Ministers are aiming to reduce the current smoking rate of 15.5 per cent of adults in England, to 12 per cent by end of 2022.
In order to achieve this, measures including high taxes on tobacco and mandatory plain packaging will be enforced, while pregnant women, NHS staff and patients will be encouraged to quit in a new drive to improve the nation’s health.
New measures also include areas with high smoking prevalence to be supported by public health officials and to “identify local solutions” to help people stop smoking.
The board of science chair for the British Medical Association (BMA), Parveen Kumar said, “While we are glad to see developing policy such as plain cigarette packaging and increased taxation on tobacco, it is still worrying that more than 200,000 children and young people take up smoking, the leading cause of preventable premature death and ill health in this country each year.”
The NHS released a report showing, more than 200 deaths are caused by smoking every day, and new research has found that in 2015 the habit cost the health service £2.6bn.
It was revealed last week, that local public health budgets, including funding for stopping smoking and sexual health, are set to be cut by £85m this year.
According to Cancer Research UK, local stop-smoking services are the most effective ways to help smokers quit, three in five councils were forced to cut their budgets for the service last year.
However, smoking rates in Britain are at the lowest levels since records began and the number of smokers has decreased by nearly two million since the smoking ban was introduced in England a decade ago.
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.
The Government’s Tobacco Control Plan now aims to also cut smoking among 15-year-olds who regularly smoke from 8 per cent to 3 per cent or less.
In order to achieve a “smoke-free generation”, smoking rates must fall to 5 per cent or under across the population, with one in 20 people or fewer smoking.
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-cigs in stop-smoking campaigns.
Ministers will also use the UK 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.
There will also be more help for smokers with mental health problems, as figures show that more than 40 per cent of adults with a serious mental illness smoke.
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 per cent. But our vision is to create a smoke-free generation.”