Fresh welcomes plans to create a smokefree future
Fresh has welcomed a Government announcement for new legislation around tobacco to create a smokefree generation. The regional tobacco control programme has also reiterated key asks for measures to reduce youth vaping but flagged caution around potential risks to banning disposables given their role in helping high risk groups to successfully quit lethal smoking.
The new bill is set to make its way through Parliament and will include a historic new law to “stop the start” of new smokers by making it illegal for any child who turned 14 last year or younger to be ever sold cigarettes in England.
Alongside raising the age of sale for tobacco are plans to ban disposable vapes, restrict vape flavours, introduce plain packaging for vapes and change how vapes are displayed in shops so that they don’t appeal to children.
It will also include new fines for shops which sell vapes illegally to children and empower trading standards officers to act ‘on the spot’ to tackle underage tobacco and vape sales.
Over 50 organisations from the North East submitted responses in a major consultation in the Autumn – from fire and rescue, local authorities and NHS Trusts to the Association of Directors of Public Health North East and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board.
Tobacco is the biggest preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the country, responsible for 64,000 deaths in England and around 408,000 hospital admissions a year. No other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users, most of whom (83%) start as teenagers. Each year smoking year kills more people than COVID did at the height of the pandemic.
73% of people in the North East support the proposals to raise the age of sale by a year each year and the policy also enjoys cross party support – policy is backed by 74% of those who intend to vote Conservative at the next election, 72% of those who intend to vote Labour and 65% of those intending to vote Lib Dem.
Ailsa Rutter, OBE Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “There is huge public support for a smokefree generation – and no wonder when most smokers start as children on an addiction which costs tens of thousands of pounds and kills 2 out of 3.
“The next few months will give our parliamentarians one of the biggest chances they will ever have to prevent our biggest cause of cancer, stop the start of young smokers and create a better life free of addiction for our children. In doing so this will be a significant moment to help transform the nation’s health and ease a massive pressure on our NHS and economy.
But she added: “We welcome the fact calls are being heeded to restrict access and desirability of disposables vapes to children. We have been asking for the government for a long time to increase their price and address the inappropriate promotion and packaging. But vapes are now the most common and one of the most effective ways for smokers to quit so we need to ensure they remain an available and accessible option for people to switch and cut the risk. Vaping is much less harmful than smoking.
“We know how valuable disposable vapes can be with priority groups such as smokers in our poorest communities, older smokers and people with serious mental illness. The last thing we want is to push people back to smoking and widen health inequalities widen further. Any plans for a ban on them will need to be carefully considered to ensure that it doesn’t have unintended consequences.”
Amanda Healy, Durham County Council’s Director of Public Health and Chair of the Association of Directors of Public Health North East Network, said: “The response from local authorities, NHS trusts and many other organisations and individuals to create a smokefree generation has been overwhelming. Smoking now costs our region £2.5bn a year – a cost not just felt by families but to our economy, local authority social care budgets and to the NHS.
“The North East may have seen the biggest fall in smoking in England in the last two decades, but for generations saw the worst outcomes from diseases like lung cancer and COPD and the impact in our communities with people left disabled or dying too early from smoking.
“There are very few families who haven’t seen a loved one suffer because of smoking…that is why people don’t want that for their children or grandchildren.”
Former smoker Sue Mountain has undergone treatment three times for laryngeal cancer as a result of smoking. She said: “This is a momentous step to stop more people getting cancer in the future. The main thing is the government is saying enough is enough and now our MPs need to make this happen. This is all about a better life for our children and grandchildren – free of waking up needing a cigarette, free of the costs and free of the health risks.
“I started smoking as a kid, before I realised how addictive it was. Nobody who starts smoking young ever thinks they’ll smoke for life. It might not prevent everyone starting to smoke, but it will stop a lot of people and save them from dying needlessly early.
“This is not about limited freedoms but investing in our future with a healthier society and protecting vulnerable youngsters from the lifelong effects of smoking.”
Cathy Hunt, 57, is a mum of four from County Durham. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and had half a lung removed in 2015 just two days before her 50th birthday. She underwent surgery again in 2022 when the cancer returned, and in June this year had a kidney removed due to cancer.
Cathy said: “Too many people are becoming ill and dying from smoking. For me it was only when I found out I had cancer that I stopped smoking, and even then quitting was the best thing I could do. But this is exactly why you need action to help people stop and not start in the first place…to stop more people getting that to that awful stage.
“I am absolutely over the moon that they are planning to raise the age of sale for tobacco. It is vital we protect our children from the harm cigarettes cause.”
In addition to measures around tobacco and vaping, today, HMRC and Border Force is set to publish a new Illicit Tobacco Strategy, ‘Stubbing Out the Problem’, which sets out a commitment to reduce the trade in illicit tobacco and to tackle and disrupt organised crime behind the illicit tobacco trade.