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Smokefree 2030 - will the target be missed?

The Government recently announced new measures to help drive down smoking rates in England from 13% to 5% or less by 2030 – but there is still much more that needs to be done to stop people dying needlessly from smoking-related cancers.

In this blog post we look at the plans in more detail and explore how we can take stronger action, not only help people quit for good but also stop people from taking up smoking in the first place.

Hand holding a cigarette above an ashtray, in an outdoor setting

What did the Government announce to help reduce smoking rates?

The Minister responsible for Public Health, Neil O’Brien MP, made a speech outlining the Government’s latest proposals to achieve ‘Smokefree 2030’, a target that was set in 2019.

The announcement included the creation of a £45 million fund to help one million people stop smoking. This will be used to offer “Swap to Stop” vaping starter kits to those who smoke and refer people to stop-smoking services.

Reinforcing a position supported by Yorkshire Cancer Research, the Minister emphasised that not only are vaping products substantially less harmful than smoking, but they are also significantly more effective as a stop smoking tool than nicotine replacement therapies.

The speech also outlined a new initiative to help pregnant women stop smoking by offering vouchers alongside behavioural support. This should become available to all pregnant women by the end of next year. Other plans include extended measures to tackle illicit and underage sales of tobacco cigarettes and a consultation on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages and information to help people quit.

Is there enough funding for the “Swap to Stop” scheme?

Although the “Swap to Stop” scheme is good news for people who smoke, Yorkshire Cancer Research is concerned the proposed funding allocation will not be enough to deliver this service effectively and have the necessary impact.

A combination of quit aids, such as vaping products, nicotine patches or nicotine replacement drugs, and specialised behavioural support is required to help people stop smoking for good.

The fund announced by the Government amounts to just £45 for each person who smokes, and while this may be enough to provide a vaping starter kit, it will not be enough to provide the specialist behavioural support that is also needed.

Through stop smoking programmes funded by the charity, we’ve found that it costs more than £100 to provide behavioural support and a vaping starter kit to an individual for four weeks. If support is extended to the recommended 12 weeks, these costs exceed £275 per person. To maximise the chances of success, a combination of aids such as vaping products and high-quality behavioural support is essential.

Is a Smokefree 2030 likely to be achieved with these new measures?

The measures announced are positive steps but do not go far enough. We estimate that the “Swap to Stop” scheme will lead to approximately 152,500 people quitting smoking for good, and a reduction in smoking rates to 12.7% - which is only a minor improvement from the current rate of 13%.

The additional measures to help pregnant women and introduce positive cigarette pack inserts will likely reduce rates further but need to be paired with funding for local stop smoking services so behavioural support can be provided to give people the best chance of quitting. Budgets for stop smoking services and tobacco control have fallen 41% in recent years – the largest cut in public health spending. This means many services have been scaled back and are unable to support the number of people they once did.

Even with these new measures in place, we estimate that Yorkshire will miss the Smokefree 2030 target by 15 years and England will miss it by 14 years.

What can the Government do to have the greatest impact upon smoking rates?

Making smoking obsolete requires a strong tobacco control plan. An independent review published in 2022 clearly outlined the action points needed to help the country reach a Smokefree 2030, but the announcement failed to include the majority of the recommendations outlined in the Khan Review.

These recommendations include raising the age of sale of tobacco by one year, every year until no one can buy tobacco products. This is a policy Yorkshire Cancer Research strongly supports. It has already been adopted by New Zealand where there is a world-leading plan to make smoking a thing of the past.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Running national mass media campaigns aimed at supporting people to stop smoking
  • Introducing a tax on the tobacco industry and using this to fund services and initiatives to reduce smoking rates
  • Substantially raising the cost of tobacco through higher taxes, and
  • Increasing smokefree places to de-normalise smoking and protect young people.

Although vitally important, stop smoking services cannot drive down smoking rates alone. The only way to achieve Smokefree 2030 is to support these services with strong tobacco control policies and to solve the problem from both ends of the spectrum by ensuring no one can start smoking in the first place as well as helping current smokers to stop.

Why does Yorkshire need a strong tobacco control plan?

Yorkshire is home to some of the country’s most deprived communities and, because smoking is closely associated with deprivation levels, the region has some of the highest smoking rates in England.

Smoking has a significant, negative impact upon personal health and finances, the NHS and inequalities within Yorkshire and beyond.

Every week in Yorkshire, 90 people are diagnosed with a cancer caused by smoking and sadly, 60 people in the region lose their lives. So it’s essential that we take action now to save lives in our region.

What needs to happen now?

Although the announcement was a positive step forward and could help thousands more people in Yorkshire to stop smoking, it’s vital we do more to reduce smoking rates down to 5% or less, especially in areas where smoking rates are high.

Yorkshire Cancer Research will continue to push for the introduction of strong tobacco control policies, such as raising the age of sale and increasing the cost of tobacco products.

Alongside this, we will call for more funding to be provided by the government to ensure that the new “Swap to Stop” scheme is a success.

Together, this combined approach will not only reduce the number of people starting to smoke each year, but also provide the tools and resources to give people the best chance of successfully stopping smoking for good.