Prior to the ban on smoking in public places in 2007, it was difficult to imagine being in a pub without the constant haze of tobacco smoke filling the air.

Ten years on, the ban has been widely accepted and heralded as a huge success by many.

Close to two million fewer people smoke today than they did ten years ago. In 2005, around 24% of adults in England smoked, according to the NHS. By 2015, this number had dropped to 16.9% (17.2 UK-wide), according figures from the ONS.  

One study published in The Lancet has also even suggested that the smoking ban may have already helped to reduce the number of preterm births and childhood asthma cases.

So where do we go from here? How close are we to achieving a ‘smoke free’ society? And what steps do we need to take in order to make it a reality?

The Tobacco Control Plan

The government’s long awaited Tobacco Control Plan was published by the Department of Health last month. It details aims to continue to reduce smoking prevalence in England, and how it hopes to achieve them.

The ultimate aim is to have a smoke free generation where less than five percent of the population smoke. The document does not give a specific date for when it expects to achieve this particular target (although previously, The British Medical Association has implied that we should be aiming to do so by 2035). The Tobacco Control Plan  instead outlines its goals for the next five years, which are to:

  • Reduce the number of 15 year olds smoking from eight percent to three percent or less.
  • Reduce the number of adults smoking from 15.5 percent to 12 percent or less.
  • Reduce the number of women smoking during pregnancy from 10.7 percent to six percent or less.
  • Make all mental health inpatient services smoke free.
  • Make safer smoking alternatives widely available.

Smoking rates in the UK have been declining since the mid to late 1970s (thanks to a combination of regulations, greater awareness of the health risks associated with smoking, and increased taxes on tobacco).

The goal of the Tobacco Control Plan is to ensure that smoking numbers continue to decrease, whilst targeting specific at-risk groups.

What else is being done to create a smoke free society?

In recent years, several legislative measures have been implemented to help reduce smoking prevalence.

Such measures have included:   

  • Taxes on tobacco products. As tax rates on cigarettes and tobacco increase, so does their overall price. In 1985, the cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes was £1.35 [1]. Following the Spring 2017 budget, a pack of 20 will cost at least £8.81 [2].  
  • Advertising restrictions. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act [3] was brought into force in 2002. This led to a ban on tobacco advertising in print and on billboards in 2003, and a ban on the sponsorship of international sporting events in 2005.
  • Point of sale restrictions. The open displaying of tobacco products in shops was banned in 2015.
  • Standardised packaging. Tobacco brands are no longer able to produce eye-catching packaging. Instead, standardised plain boxes with explicit health warnings have been mandatory since 2017.
  • Limitations on product lines. Smaller pack sizes of cigarettes and rolling tobacco are being phased out. New legislation means that cigarettes cannot be sold in packs of less than 20, and tobacco in pouches of less than 30g, to ensure packaging is big enough to contain legible health warnings [4]. Menthol and flavoured cigarettes are also being phased out and will no longer be available by 2020.

What are the benefits of a smoke free society?

Most people are aware of the health benefits of giving up smoking, or not ever starting in the first place.. A smoke free society would help to reduce the likelihood of future generations taking the habit up, and to contribute towards better overall public health by ensuring the following:

  • Reduction in the number of preventable deaths

There are still 7.3 million smokers in the UK, and tobacco-related illness causes at least 200 preventable deaths each day, making it the biggest single cause of preventable deaths in the country. It’s likely this number will be drastically reduced if fewer people smoke.

  • Fewer people experiencing chronic health conditions related to tobacco use

Those who smoke are more likely to experience chronic tobacco-related illnesses such as COPD, which when severe, can have a marked impact on overall health and quality of life. Fewer cases of these will mean more people living fuller, healthier lives.

  • Economy

According to the Tobacco Control Plan, smoking is estimated to cost the economy more than £11 billion each year. £2.5 million of this falls at the door of the NHS, and £5.3 billion of the bill is picked up by employers.

  • NHS

A healthier general population could help ease the strain being put on NHS services as a whole.

What are other countries doing in order to become smokefree?

We’ve written on the subject of smoking bans across Europe previously. More and more countries are recognising the benefits of a smoke free society and implementing their own plans to reduce smoking prevalence.

Some prime examples include:

Finland

The Finnish government is aiming to drastically reduce smoking prevalence so that no more than two percent of the population is still using tobacco products by 2040.

They hope to achieve this target by following their Roadmap to a Tobacco Free Finland policy set out by The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Finland has already made progress by introducing high fees for businesses wanting to sell tobacco products; extending smoke-free restrictions to some private residential areas, private cars, playgrounds, beaches and amusement parks; and strengthened smoking cessation schemes.

Holland

In the Dutch city of Groningen, various organisations including hospitals, schools and community groups are being brought together by their united aim for a smoke free city [5]. Dr Van den Graaf, an addictions doctor in the city, believes that a united front will provide an easier transition to becoming smoke free.

France

Across the Channel, France hopes to reduce smoking prevalence (currently at around 30%) in the next few years by introducing price increases on tobacco products. The cost of a pack of 20 is set to rise [6] from seven euros to 10 euros within three years, and it is hoped that this strategy, proven to be a successful one in the UK and Ireland, will replicate similar results.

 

[1] BBC Domesday: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday/dblock/GB-412000-186000/page/12

[2] The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/philip-hammond-cigarettes-pack-smokers-price-tax-increase-882-budget-2017-a7619896.html

[3] Action on Smoking and Health: http://ash.org.uk/category/information-and-resources/advertising-promotion-sponsorship/

[4] The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/may/19/stricter-cigarette-packaging-rules-come-into-force-in-uk

[5] NL Times: http://nltimes.nl/2017/07/24/groningen-netherlands-first-smoke-free-city

[6] Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-politics-health-idUSKBN19R17G