Over the past decade, the UK’s smoking rates have gradually decreased to one of the lowest in Europe. This positive change can be attributed to increased tobacco tax, and the National Health Service’s (NHS) attempts to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking. However, 1 in 7 Brits still pick up a pack of cigarettes despite the cost and known health risks. In an attempt to tackle the smoking epidemic, the UK Government made public its vision of a smoke-free 2030. They released a green paper outlining the ways in which they can move towards this goal, including targeted support, tailored care and personalised lifestyle advice.
If a smoke-free 2030 is to become a reality, we must first understand why quitting is such a challenge; the responsibilities of local authorities, and whether legal action, such as increasing the legal age of sale, could help achieve the Government’s ambition.
The Challenges of Quitting
The dangers of smoking are common knowledge, with gruesome pictures plastered on cigarette packets and health services urging Brits to stop as soon as they can. Yet people risk their lives every day just for a smoke, and this is because quitting is no easy feat. In fact, once the initial withdrawal symptoms have passed, remaining smoke-free can be just as difficult.
Research suggests that it takes 30 attempts for the average smoker to quit for good; this is because the nicotine naturally found in tobacco is highly addictive. So much so that it can alter the structure of the brain over time, making it almost impossible to stop smoking if you go cold turkey.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends using e-cigarettes as an alternative. This is because premium e-liquids can satisfy nicotine cravings without all the nasties found in tobacco, helping to reduce the number of cigarette smokers and move towards the Government’s vision of a smoke-free 2030.
NHS England has made a pledge that by 2024, they will offer support and treatment to admitted smokers to help achieve a smoke-free 2030. Although this is a step in the right direction, it may not be enough.
Local authorities need to secure funding to offer essential services that are proven to reduce smoking rates, including a combination of behavioural support and pharmacotherapy. In addition, they must conduct in-depth research on the attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, lifestyles and priorities of community members addicted to smoking. This way, they can discover the root cause of why they start smoking in the first place and offer tailored support to help them stop for good.
However, since 2015 the public health budget has been cut by a staggering £700 million, with stop-smoking services among those adversely affected. Budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult for local authorities to reach out and offer support, advice and education to communities in need.
Legal Age of Sale
Although smoking is considered a health risk to adults, 280 children start smoking in England every day. Therefore, the UK Government is contemplating whether to raise the legal age for the sale of cigarettes from 18 to 21.
The purpose of this law change isn’t to criminalise smoking but to restrict cigarette access to young people by making it illegal for an adult to sell cigarettes to, or produce cigarettes for, people under the age of 21.
The Institute of Medicine noted that increasing the age of sale to 21 would substantially reduce smoking prevalence in young people, later reducing the number of smoking-attributed deaths. In doing so, this law could help the UK to move towards a happier and healthier smoke-free 2030.