The government has set out an ambitious plan to make England, in effect, smoke-free in the next few decades.
The new Tobacco Control Plan aims to slash smoking rates from 15.5% to 12% of the population by 2022, paving the way to a smoke-free generation.
If national smoking rates continue to fall, this generation of non-smokers could be achieved by 2030, says charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).
Health officials say smoking currently kills 200 people a day in England.
Smoking rates in England are at the lowest level since records began.
But the Department of Health says there is still much further to go.
It has sets out a range of targets:
- Reducing general smoking rates from the current 15.5% down to 12% or less
- Cutting the rate of 15-year-olds who regularly smoke from 8% to 3% or less
- Lowering smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% or less.
Commenting on the proposals, Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash, said: “The vision of a smoke-free generation it sets out is a welcome step-change in ambition from the last Tobacco Control Plan for England and should be achievable by 2030.”
But she warned that the success of the plan – which emphasises local over national action – was threatened by “severe government cuts in public health funding”.
There is no new money to achieve this plan and no penalties for local areas that fail to meet the targets.
And smoking rates remain stubbornly high in some regions, particularly among the lowest earners.
Public Health England’s chief executive Duncan Selbie said the country was at a “pivotal point” where the end was in sight and a smoke-free generation a reality.
But he added: “The final push, reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, will undoubtedly be the hardest.”
Meanwhile, Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, called on ministers to “stop lecturing” people.
He said: “The most important stakeholder is the consumer, yet they are routinely ignored by the government. Ministers should stop lecturing smokers and engage with them.”
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‘Vaping in pregnancy’
Public health minister, Steve Brine, said: “Smoking continues to kill hundreds of people a day in England, and we know the harms fall on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.
“That is why we are targeting prevention and local action to address the variation in smoking rates in our society, educate people about the risks and support them to quit for good.”
One of the areas the government’s plan focuses on is cutting smoking rates in pregnancy, partly by calling on local areas to appoint smoke-free pregnancy “champions”.
It comes as the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group – which includes academic institutions and charities- says pregnant women who find it hard to quit should be encouraged to try e-cigarettes as an alternative.
Linda Bauld, chairwoman of the group, told the BBC: “Smoking in pregnancy is uniquely harmful. It causes 2,000 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 deaths of babies every year in the UK.
“So if somebody is struggling to stop, let us be open about that, let us talk about all the options.
“If a woman is really struggling and wants to use e-cigarettes, then from what we know to date in the UK, we shouldn’t be preventing those women from using them.”