World No Tobacco Day 2020: Two decades down, one to go

This World No Tobacco Today, there is much to celebrate. In the twenty years since the millennium, child smoking has dwindled: in the year 2000 one in five children under 16 smoked, and now the proportion is now only one in twenty. Smoking, which was still ubiquitous at the turn of the century, is rapidly disappearing from view. Decades of tireless campaigning by public health groups finally bore fruit in the twenty first century, as the UK stopped being a laggard in tobacco control and became a leader. Not only does the UK have some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world, we also ranked first in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index for our success in protecting public health policy from industry interference, Cancer Research UK, which funds ASH, has played a major role in helping deliver these achievements, which is why ASH is delighted that CRUK has been recognised by the WHO this year and given a World No Tobacco Day award.

Drag the sliders below to see how five tobacco control measures have changed life for the better. 

Tobacco advertising vanished

TV and cinema advertising was banned in the 1980s, but loopholes ensured tobacco promotion remained ubiquitous in all media including TV and films. From February to July 2003, a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising covering all media came into force, banning print, billboard, and direct mail, as well as sponsorship of domestic events. A ban on tobacco sponsorship of global events was implemented in 2005.

Cigarette packs became unrecognisable

Under EU legislation, cigarette packs were required to have a large ‘Smoking Kills’ warning covering 30% of the pack from September 2002. Graphic picture warnings illustrating the dangers of smoking became mandatory on the back of packs from October 2008. In May 2016 EU laws were strengthened to require combined (picture and text) health warnings covering 65% of the front and back of cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco packages. The UK went further and required standardised packaging which prohibited any branding other than the brand name in small typeface on the pack.

Public places went smokefree

On the 1st July 2007, it became illegal to smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces in England, including work vehicles, hire cars and public transport. The legislation resulted in 1200 fewer emergency admissions to hospital for heart attacks in the following twelve months.

Point-of-sale displays disappeared

Displaying tobacco products at the point of sale was made illegal in large stores (such as supermarkets) in April 2012, and illegal in small shops since April 2015. Tobacco displays had been found to prompt impulse purchases and increase sales by an estimated 12-28%, especially among young people and ex-smokers.

Laws were introduced specifically to protect children

The age of sale for tobacco rose from 16 to 18 in October 2007, making it illegal to sell to anyone under 18.

Cigarette vending machines, which children could access easily, were banned from October 2011.

To protect child passengers from secondhand smoke, a ban on smoking in cars carrying children under 18 came into force in October 2015.

In May 2020, the sale of menthol cigarettes became illegal. Menthol cigarettes have been shown to make it easier for young people to start smoking and harder to quit.

What's next?

In July 2019, the UK Government set out its ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030, now just ten years away. It recognised that this will be “extremely challenging”, and so also committed to bring forward further measures to deliver on the ambition, including new ideas for funding tobacco control such as a ‘polluter pays’ approach, which would require the industry to pay for the measures needed to bring the tobacco epidemic to a close.

Government guidelines say the next steps should have been announced by 6th January 2020, but it has yet to do so. ASH, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, the British Lung Foundation, the Royal Society for Public Health and many others are calling on the Government to adopt our Roadmap to a Smokefree 2030. Top of the list is legislation to require the tobacco manufacturers to finance a Smokefree 2030 Fund, to pay for the measures needed to end smoking.

Find out more about the Smokefree 2030 campaign at