The introduction of smokefree workplaces in England has delivered exceptional public health progress: workers in enclosed public places are now protected from secondhand smoke, and an estimated 400,000 smokers quit within the first year. This could prevent 40,000 deaths over the next 10 years. Not surprisingly, research from the Department of Health has found high levels of public support and compliance. This is an outstanding achievement and shows that the conviction displayed by all of those MPs who supported this landmark change was both justified and crucial.
Smokefree workplaces, however, should not be seen as the final piece of the jigsaw. There are still challenges to be met: 22% of the adult population still smoke and prevalence rates are highest amongst low income groups and young people. Smoking-related disease kills 87,000 people a year in England, the equivalent of the entire population of Durham. Smoking remains the single biggest cause of cancer and is a factor in 90% of oral and lung cancers. Deaths from coronary heart disease are around 60% higher in smokers.
Since the publication of the last government’s tobacco control plan ‘Smoking Kills’ in 1998 the prohibition of most forms of tobacco advertising, the creation of the NHS stop smoking services and the enactment of smokefree legislation represent outstanding progress and have delivered important public health benefits over recent years. However, smoking continues to kill far too many people. The Smokefree Action Coalition, a group of organisations dedicated to improving public health, including the CIEH, believes that if we are to stop tobacco taking more lives we must maintain the momentum and build on the success of smokefree workplaces. In 2008 we published our vision for what needs to be done.
In March 2011 the Coalition Government published its tobacco control strategy, Healthy lives, healthy people: a tobacco control plan for England.
Amongst other things the strategy includes commitments to implementing the legislation on ending tobacco displays in shops, to consider whether plain packaging of tobacco products could help reduce the number of people smoking and to introduce legislation to stop tobacco sales from vending machines from October 2011.
The strategy has been welcomed by the Smokefree Action Coalition as a comprehensive, evidence-based plan with ambitious but achievable goals to reduce smoking rates among adults and children.
The CIEH is currently supporting the ‘Plain Packs Protect’ Campaign being run by ASH and others. The aim of the campaign is to persuade people to pledge their support for the introduction of plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products in order to protect children. The Campaign estimates that every year another 340,000 children in the UK are tempted to try smoking. Evidence suggests that they are more likely to be attracted by designed tobacco packs, than by plain packs. To sign up to the campaign please visit the Plain Packs Protect website which is being hosted by Smokefree South West.