On the eve of the ten year anniversary of smokefree regulations being introduced in the UK, a leading lung specialist today (Friday 30 June) welcomes the recent fall in UK smoking rates but says ‘there is still much work to do in protecting the health of this and future generations from the harms of tobacco’ - and will call on the Government to publish its ‘Tobacco Control Plan’ as an ‘urgent priority’.
Dr Sanjay Agrawal claims the lack of a plan constitutes a ‘huge hole’ in health policy, going on to argue that a strong, well-funded national strategy to support people to be free of their tobacco dependence is vital to achieving a healthier nation and can deliver significant, future cost-savings for the NHS.
The Government’s last Tobacco Control Plan has helped reduce smoking levels to 15.8% of adults across the UK 1. However, it ran out 18 months ago in December 2015 and no publication date for a new one has been set. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death2 and every day since the last tobacco control plan expired, hundreds of under 16s have started smoking3.
Dr Sanjay Agrawal, Consultant Lung Specialist & Chair of the British Thoracic Society’s Tobacco Group, commented:
‘I welcome the recent fall in smoking rates – it will save many lives. But young people are still taking up smoking and every day on my ward rounds I see people struggling for breath with lung diseases caused by their tobacco dependence.
Yet, each day goes by without news of the new national strategy we urgently need. The Government must map out how we will fund and support more smokers to quit and protect our children from tobacco addiction in the future.’
He said it was vital that the Tobacco Control Plan covered the following key issues:
- Key actions to achieve a truly smoke-free NHS, given that a recent BTS audit showed NHS hospitals across UK are falling ‘woefully short’ of national standards on helping patients who smoke to quit and enforcing smoke-free premises. The Society is calling on national health and care regulators such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to be given the responsibility to hold hospital boards to account on the issue.
- Continued investment in high-profile national awareness campaigns to prompt and support people to quit.
- Strong investment in NHS stop smoking support services locally. Using an NHS service has been shown to make the chance of quitting four times more likely4.
- Targeted plans to help support specific groups and communities with very high smoking rates to quit tobacco - including people with mental health problems.
Dr Sanjay Agrawal added:
‘Smoking still kills over 250 people every day in UK. It costs the NHS in England approximately £2bn a year to treat diseases caused by smoking and the cost to wider society is estimated at £12.9bn a year.5 It causes devastation to people’s lives and yet there is no current national plan to address the issue.
The last Government plan was a success and has helped to reduce smoking levels across UK and the level of harm inflicted by tobacco on the nation’s health.
But there are many issues that still need to be addressed. The NHS must walk the talk and implement national guidance and be completely smoke-free, offering support to every hospital patient who smokes to help them quit. This is a huge health and economic opportunity that we are missing out on at present.
In the community, there’s a real fight going on for the future of stop smoking support services. Some local authorities, facing overall budget reductions, have cut funding for community-based stop-smoking services – meaning that people who need support may have nowhere to go. We need to plan and fund these vital services - to ensure no-one who needs treatment and support to stop smoking falls through the net.
We also need to provide targeted funds and action to help specific communities to quit – for example, the majority of people with severe mental illness smoke and we need to be more proactive across the NHS and other settings in helping support them to be free from their dependence on tobacco.
We call on the Government to publish the Tobacco Control Plan without delay.’
1 Source: Office of National Statistics
2 Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-on-smoking-england-2017
3 Hopkinson, NS., Lester-George, A., Ormiston-Smith, N., Cox, A. & Arnott, D. Child uptake of smoking by area across the UK. Thorax 2013. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-204379
4 Source: NHS Choices
5 Source: Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) website (www.ash.org.uk)
Note to Editors:
The British Thoracic Society is the UK’s professional body of respiratory specialists. The Society seeks to improve standards of care for people who have respiratory diseases and to support and develop those who provide that care. A registered charity, it has over 3,000 members including doctors, nurses, respiratory physiotherapists, scientists and other professionals with a respiratory interest.