The Government has set an ambition to make England smokefree by 2030. But Yorkshire is due to miss this target by 15 years. In this blog, our Director of Research, Services and Policy Dr Stuart Griffiths asks why tobacco control hasn’t been the priority it should be and explores what’s needed to help smokers in Yorkshire quit for good.
Every day, 19 people in Yorkshire die from smoking. These people are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and partners. This year, 6,900 people in our region will lose their lives to this addiction, making smoking the biggest preventable cause of early death and illness.
Smoking is an addiction, not a lifestyle choice
Quitting smoking is not easy, however. Nicotine is an addictive drug, and people often start smoking in childhood, which helps make it a difficult habit to break. We estimate that 26 children in Yorkshire start smoking each day – roughly one child every hour.
Smoking is not a ‘lifestyle choice’. It is a harmful addiction that can be treated. People who smoke, many of whom want to quit, deserve to get help to do so. Local and national government are in a good position – and have a responsibility – to help people quit smoking and make it more difficult for people to start smoking in the first place.
Smoking hasn't been a public health priority
But none of this is new information. We’ve known about the health risks of smoking for decades, and have been trying to implement tobacco control policies for just as long. But we have failed to make smoking the public health priority it should be.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has been putting forward recommendations for tobacco control policies for nearly 60 years. In a report earlier this year, they claimed that “had the policies advocated by the RCP in 1962 been adopted and followed through, smoking would […] have been eradicated from the UK years ago.”
Millions of smokers who need and deserve support to quit have been let down by successive governments, which have failed to truly commit to tobacco control. The result of this indifference is thousands of people in our region dying early who shouldn’t have. Parents, children, siblings, and loved ones.
How we're helping to save lives
At Yorkshire Cancer Research, our key goal is to ensure that 2,000 more people in Yorkshire survive cancer every year. Helping people in our region to quit smoking will be vital to achieving this, because the link between smoking and cancer is undeniable. Smoking can be linked to at least 15 different types of cancer, and every year, more than 4,500 people in Yorkshire develop cancer because of it.
As a charity, we are committed to playing our part in funding research trials, services and campaigns to help people quit for good. This includes the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, which is testing the best ways to provide stop smoking support alongside lung health checks, and Vaping Demystified, a documentary that addresses concerns about vaping as an effective tool to quit smoking.
The Government has set an ambitious target for England to go smokefree by 2030 (defined as when fewer than 5% of the population smoke). But in our region, we have a long way to go. At 15.4%, Yorkshire has the highest percentage of adult smokers compared to any other region in England (the national average is 13.9%). And at the current rate of progress in our region, we estimate we will miss the 2030 target by 15 years – leading to more unnecessary cancer diagnoses and deaths. A significant change in strategy is therefore required.
Helping people quit smoking for good
There are plenty of measures that local and national governments can take to help people quit smoking for good. Specialist stop smoking services give smokers the best chance of quitting by providing people with behavioural support and nicotine replacement therapies.
Vaping products are offering smokers, especially those who have tried to quit many times, a renewed opportunity to try again, and are proving effective. Mass media campaigns to educate people about the harms of smoking are effective and relatively inexpensive. Other measures such as increasing taxes on tobacco, plain packaging, and raising the minimum age of sale can also help.
But the reality is that many of the things that should be helping to stop people smoking aren’t working effectively. Much of the problem lies in money.
Between 2014 and 2019, pressure on the budgets of England’s local authorities led to a 36% reduction in spending on stop smoking services and tobacco control (from £135.9 million to £87.3 million). This has led to stop smoking services in some areas being scaled down or decommissioned altogether. And spending on mass media anti-smoking campaigns in the UK has fallen from £23.38 million in 2008 to £1.78 million in 2019 – a huge 92% drop.
We're calling for action
To help reverse this trend, one key proposal recommended by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health is the formation of ‘Smokefree 2030 fund’, where tobacco companies would be required by law to pay for the measures needed to end smoking. It could raise as much as £500 million a year and help repair the damage their products have done.
Politicians have been considering the idea of making tobacco companies pay for stop smoking services since at least 2019. But even taking into account the disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic, it’s disappointing that this has still not been implemented. The Government has the opportunity in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to make this commitment and we, alongside 51 cancer charities are calling for this action.
It’s not acceptable that people are still dying from smoking in 2021. The Government has said it will set out how it will make the 2030 ambition a reality in a Tobacco Control Plan. But this has been delayed several times, and a firm date for its release is yet to be set.
We urge the Government to match its 2030 target with a similarly ambitious and comprehensive Tobacco Control Plan. For too long, tobacco control has not been the priority it should be, leading to a lack of funding and political will for change – and ultimately, thousands of people dying who should not have. The Government must urgently step up for the health of people in Yorkshire and the rest of the country.
Do you or someone you love need help to quit smoking? Find out more about stop-smoking services across Yorkshire, and get help quitting today.