New Tobacco Control Plan puts ‘Prevention First’ to achieve “smokefree generation”

The Department of Health published its new Tobacco Control Plan on Tuesday 18 July, outlining the government's ambitious plans to create a "smokefree generation".

19 July 2017 | Policy

The Department of Health published its new Tobacco Control Plan on Tuesday 18 July, outlining the government’s ambitious plans to create a “smokefree generation” (defined as prevalence below 5%) by the end of 2022.

The aim is to move the UK closer to this goal by supporting evidence-based approaches to preventing and reducing tobacco use, including standardised packaging and reducing the number of adults who smoke in order to provide more positive role models for young people.

What the plan hopes to achieve:

  • reduce the number of 15 year olds who regularly smoke from 8% to 3% or less
  • reduce smoking among adults in England from 15.5% to 12% or less
  • reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.5% to 6% or less
  • reduce the inequality gap in smoking prevalence and provide equal support to those with mental ill health as to those with physical ill health
  • support evidence-based innovations to support quitting.

How these objectives will be met:

1. Prevention first: ensuring the effective implementation of evidence-based approaches such as standardised packaging to reduce the uptake of smoking by young people and supporting Public Health England and NHS England to implement the NICE guidance for supporting pregnant smokers to quit.

2. Creating a smoke-free NHS by 2020 by encouraging smokers using, visiting and working in the NHS to quit, and providing access to training for all health professionals on how to help people quit smoking, especially those patients in mental health services.

3. Eliminating variations in smoking rates across different regions by promoting and supporting local solutions to help people stop smoking.

4. Effective enforcement, including high duty rates for tobacco products and sanctions for illicit tobacco.

The cost of smoking to society

Smoking causes around 79,000 preventable deaths in England and is estimated to cost our economy almost £12 billion per year. Of this:

  • £2.5 billion falls to the NHS, including hospital admissions and GP visits concerning smoking-related illnesses,
  • £5.3 billion falls to employers, including an estimated £3.6 billion in lost output related to smoking breaks,
  • £4.1 billion falls to wider society, related to the death or absence of those who would otherwise be working and contributing to the economy.

The Tobacco Control Plan recognises that “the true cost of tobacco use is likely to be higher” than these estimates, “with evidence now showing that smoking causes a greater range of diseases and death than accounted for in these costs. Every year additional costs are also incurred from smoking related fires and tobacco litter, as well as the wider costs associated with illicit tobacco and organised crime.”

Cost-effective, evidence-based prevention

Research from the National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has found the most cost-effective approaches to preventing and reducing smoking among young people are mass-media campaigns and age restrictions on the sale of tobacco.

Marketing remains a core pillar of tobacco control with evidence indicating that taking a population wide approach to encouraging quit attempts is the most effective approach. (p. 21)

Evidence also indicates that young people are more likely to refuse tobacco when they receive anti-smoking messages from a variety of sources (for example, family, friends, internet, sporting events), as opposed to only a few. This supports Mentor’s holistic approach to prevention, which advocates for partnerships with schools, communities and families to protect young people from the harms of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the number of young people smoking is to reduce the number of adults who smoke. We know that children are heavily influenced by adult role models who smoke: in 2014, 82% of pupils who regularly smoked reported having a family member who smoked. (p. 9)

Mentor’s approach to prevention is rooted in building young people’s resilience and helping them develop crucial life skills. Public Health England recently re-invested in Mentor-ADEPIS (Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service), which is widely acknowledged as the leading source of information and tools for drug education and prevention. ADEPIS was also recognised earlier this year as a “prime example” of good practice by UNESCO, UNODC and the WHO.

Mentor’s CEO Michael O’Toole said: “We welcome the new Tobacco Control Plan and its evidence-based approach to impacting the messages young people receive about tobacco, as well as helping the adults in their lives quit smoking so they can be a positive example of healthy behaviour.”

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