The government has published a new tobacco control plan for England, a full year and a half since the previous one expired.
The plan sets out objectives for continued action on smoking rates across the board, with a target of reducing smoking among adults from 15.5% to 12% or less by 2022, as well as specific plans to help vulnerable groups such as pregnant mothers and young people.
RSPH welcomes the plan, and is encouraged by its willingness to confront the health inequalities that exist in the UK. However, if the tobacco control plan is to lead to results, the necessary funding and resources must be made available to public health teams.
It is therefore of great concern that local authorities are being forced to drastically reduce their public health spending as a result of central government cuts, as revealed by The King’s Fund just last week.
The other key targets set for 2022 are to:
- reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.5% to 6% or less;
- reduce the number of 15 year olds who regularly smoke from 8% to 3% or less;
- reduce the inequality gap in smoking prevalence, between those in routine and manual occupations and the general population.
RSPH supports the government in its commitment to maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking, including its acknowledgement that vaping can be a successful means of stopping smoking, and is now by far the most popular quitting method in England.
There are also plans to do more to support people with mental health conditions to quit smoking, including making all mental health inpatient services smoke-free by 2018.
A smoke-free future in England is a grand ambition, and will only be possible through harnessing the full extent of the wider public health workforce.
It is encouraging that the new control plan recognises this, with its commitment that all health professionals will be given access to the tools to promote quitting.
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, RSPH, said: “We’re delighted that the new public health minister, Steve Brine, has taken just weeks to bring forward this vision of a smoke-free generation, with its commitments to a series of bold targets. However, this will be an uphill battle if public health budgets continue to get slashed at every turn.
“Today, smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest in our society, something we can ill afford to ignore if we are to take health inequalities seriously.
“England boasts some of the fastest declining smoking rates in the world, and yet an astonishing 200 people still die every day as a result of smoking. This five-year plan is an important step towards bringing this number down, but we must ensure that its targets become reality and that the government is held to account every step of the way.”