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The UK is 10 years smoke-free and there’s more at stake than just clean-smelling clothes

by Alyssa Best | Analysis

1 July 2017

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An illustration of an aerosol can

It’s 10 years since a trip to your local would leave you smelling like an ashtray.

And if you can remember smoking in pubs, clubs and restaurants, turning back time might not be high on your agenda – our poll shows more than 8 in 10 people don’t want to go back to those days.

The poll also shows that the number one difference people mention following the ban is that their clothes no longer smell of smoke after a night out. This is a sign that you’ve not been exposed to second hand smoke, which can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer by a quarter, and may also increase the risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (upper throat).

So with ‘Eau de Ashtray’ firmly out of fashion, what other benefits has the smoking ban brought? The Smokefree policy, which made smoking in enclosed workplaces and public places illegal, has had one of the biggest influences on public health over the last decade.

Benefits of smokefree

Since it came into force, the number of smokers in the UK has dropped by almost 2 million. Other policies have played a big part in driving down smoking rates, like tax increases on tobacco, media campaigns helping smokers to quit, and a ban on point of sale advertising.

The question now is: what next?

Since the smoking ban exposure to tobacco smoke, which contains more than 70 chemicals that may cause cancer, has significantly reduced in public places.

Laws like this have been linked to lower rates of preterm births and severe cases of asthma in children. And hospital admissions for heart attacks and asthma attacks have dropped significantly in the last decade.

Smoking isn’t a done deal

Yes, we’ve come a long way from when you couldn’t take your kids out for a meal without a side order of second-hand smoke. But we’re far from being done.

Smoking is at its lowest level on record in this country, but if you take a closer look at the figures, smoking rates vary a lot across the UK. For example, in Harrow in London, 7.4% of people smoke. But take a train a couple hours north to Blackpool and 3 times as many people smoke. Yet the Stop Smoking Service in Blackpool is being closed due to cuts to funding.

And new stats out this week show that areas with higher numbers of smokers generally are more deprived and have a lower healthy life expectancy.

Tobacco is still the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, with more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths caused by smoking. Smoking not only costs lives, it also costs money. Each year in England, the estimated costs of smoking to society exceed £12 billion, which includes a £2 billion bill for the NHS and £1.4 billion in social care costs.

We need the Government to do more

Unless the Government commits to doing more, our goal of seeing fewer than 5% of people smoking by 2035, no matter where they’re from, will remain out of reach.

The Government’s previous plans for how it will commit to reducing smoking expired well over a year ago.

There’s a lot going on politics right now. But we can’t let this distract the Government from its commitments.

Theresa May, has committed to “fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others”. Tobacco is to blame for half of this difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. And since the last tobacco control plan expired we’ve seen no action to address it.

In 2014 the NHS called for a “radical upgrade in prevention and public health”. But since then there have been some big cuts to public health budgets.

The progress that has been made in reducing smoking has only happened alongside a government with clear plans on how to tackle tobacco. So we need the Government to publish its long-awaited Tobacco Control Plan for England immediately. We want to see ambitious targets for lowering smoking rates, action to close the gap between rich and poor, and a commitment to providing sustainable funding for Stop Smoking Services.

It’s time for the Government to show it’s serious about a tobacco-free future for the next generation.

And we need your help to get them to do this.

By clicking here you can email your local MP to tell the Minister of Health to publish the new Tobacco Control Plan for England now.

Let’s not allow 10 years of progress, and the fresh smell of clean clothes, to go stale again.