Cutting smoking top priority for public health

Wednesday 03 March 2004

Cutting smoking top priority for Public Health
ASH news release: Embargo: 00:01 Friday 19th March 2004

Tobacco control pressure group Action on Smoking and Health has welcomed the Government’s major consultation exercise on public health. But it has warned that “radical action” to cut smoking is essential if public health targets are to be met and that “consultation must not be used as an excuse for inaction and delay”.

The Wanless report on public health, published last week stated that ”although there has been a large decline in smoking since the 1970s smoking prevalence remained fairly stable at around 27 per cent during the 1990s”. (Wanless report, para 4.6). Cutting smoking levels further will be “a key determinant of success” in meeting the Government’s public health targets (para 4.11). Currently 115,000 people in the UK die every year from smoking-related illness. Secondhand smoke is also responsible for at least 1,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, according to the British Medical Association.

The single most effective way to cut smoking levels further would be restrictions on smoking in the workplace and enclosed public places. According to Wanless: “a workplace smoking ban in England might reduce smoking prevalence by around 4 percentage points – equivalent to a reduction from the present 27 per cent prevalence rate to 23 per cent if a comprehensive workplace ban were introduced in this country” (Box 4.2).“It is evident from our recent lack of reasonable progress in reducing smoking that the benefits which success from firmer actions might produce would be expensive to achieve by more conventional techniques of education and advice.” (Summary page 7).

ASH director Deborah Arnott commented:

“It is welcome news that the Government is placing such a high priority on improving public health. But consultation must not be used as an excuse for inaction. Polls show overwhelming public support for stopping smoking in the workplace. This would protect the health of non-smokers and increase the number of smokers looking to quit. It would be the single most effective intervention to improve public health in the last twenty years. The sooner the Government finds the courage to act the better.”

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Contact: Deborah Arnott  020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available