World No Tobacco Day is Wednesday 31st May

Friday 26 May 2017

Wednesday 31st May is World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), [1] a day set aside by the World Health Organisation as a tribute to the six million people killed each year by tobacco and a call to action to governments to halt this deadly epidemic. [2]

This year the theme of World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco – a threat to development”, a threat the UK government has acknowledged by providing £15 million over the next five years to help poorer countries implement the comprehensive tobacco control policies set out in the international tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). [3]

The UK has also taken a leadership role in implementing the WHO FCTC domestically, and will celebrate a decade of smokefree legislation in England on 1st July. ASH will be covering some of these achievements in more detail leading up to the anniversary, but other highlights in the last decade, which have been achieved with strong public and cross party political support include:

  • Standardised “plain” packaging fully implemented in shops this month
  • An increase in the legal purchasing age for tobacco and cigarettes, from 16 years to 18  (2007)
  • Legislation prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children  (2015)
  • Putting tobacco out of reach and out of sight by prohibiting the sale of tobacco from vending machines (2011) and tobacco displays in shops (fully in place in 2015)
  • An annual tobacco tax escalator of 2% above inflation making tobacco less affordable year by year

These achievements have been matched by significant declines in smoking prevalence in recent years, with smoking amongst adults and children in England now the lowest in recorded history, at 16.9% for adults [4] and only 3% for 11-15 year olds. [5] However, despite this smoking remains the leading cause of preventable premature death killing 78,000 people a year in England[6], and is also the major cause of health inequalities, responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society.[7]

It has been estimated by Cancer Research UK that every day since the last tobacco control plan expired on 31st December 2015, hundreds of under 16s have started smoking. [8] Between a third and a half of young people who try smoking will go on to become lifelong smokers, up to two thirds of whom will die prematurely after years of suffering from painful and unpleasant diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or COPD.[9] Tackling smoking remains the single biggest public health challenge facing the incoming government, killing more people than the next six causes of preventable premature death put together, including obesity, alcohol and illegal drugs. [10] ASH calls on the incoming government to publish a new tobacco strategy with tough new targets and a commitment to reducing inequalities without delay.


Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said: “The UK has made great progress in the last ten years but we cannot rest on our laurels. We’re only a week away from a general election – the incoming government must publish a new and challenging Tobacco Control Plan as soon as possible or we risk much of the progress we have made.”

Deborah continued: “On 1 July 2017 we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the implementation of smokefree legislation in England. How fitting it would be if our government were to choose this day to show their commitment to a smokefree future for our children by publishing the new Tobacco Control Plan.”

The UK’s achievements in tobacco control to date are due to the strong public and political consensus in support of tobacco control. At the time plain packaging legislation was passed, with cross party support, the Health Minister shared a tweet with his opposite number saying, “Let’s hope both our children can grow up in a smoke-free generation”. [11] But the evidence, at home and abroad, is that to achieve a smokefree future will require a comprehensive and sustained government strategy, with tough targets to drive down smoking prevalence. Many measures already in place, such as the advertising ban, taxation and standardised packaging, are self-sustaining. However to succeed in reducing inequality, the Government also needs to ensure adequate funding for the recurring costs of measures that are known to be effective – mass media campaigns, smoking cessation services and tackling tobacco smuggling. [12] [13]

See also this blog post from ASH Chief Executive, Deborah Arnott, for her personal take on World No Tobacco Day (please note the blog is under embargo until 9am on Wednesday 31st May).


Notes and Links:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview and for more information. Please contact Deborah Arnott on 020 7404 0242 or 07976 935 987.


[1] World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day page

[2] World Health Organisation tobacco factsheet

[3] WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

[4] Office for National Statistics statistical bulletin on adult smoking habits in the UK: 2015

[5] NHS report on smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2014

[6] Health & Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Smoking, England 2016 (PDF)

[7] DfID: Fair society, healthy lives: the Marmot Review : strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010.

[8] Estimate by CRUK based on data from the national survey on Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. The NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care.

[9] Banks E et al. Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence. BMC Medicine 2015]

[10] Smoking Still Kills report, ASH, 2015


[12] Smoking Still Kills report, ASH, 2015

[13] RCP. Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco Harm reduction. A report by the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. London. RCP. 2016.