Health campaigners welcome King’s Speech hailing a smokefree generation
Fresh with NHS and local authority leaders in the North East welcomes Government plan set out in today’s King’s Speech to create a smokefree generation1.
The plans include introducing a historic new law to stop children who turn 14 this year, or younger, from ever legally being sold cigarettes in England. This is part of a consultation launched on 12th October and which closes on 6th December.
The confirmation that this will be a key part of the legislative programme is a landmark moment in the history of protecting health.
Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the country, responsible for 64,000 deaths in England a year. No other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users, most of whom (83%) start as teengers2.
In the North East, tobacco costs nearly £1 billion a year in medical, health and social care, lost earnings and smoking-related unemployment3.
In addition, smoking is still the largest cause of cancer – responsible for one in four of every cancer deaths – and leads to almost one hospital admission every minute, with more than 117,000 deaths in the North East since the year 2000.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “We warmly welcome the Government plan set out in the Kings Speech to make it illegal for anyone born after 1st January 2009 to be sold tobacco. Tobacco is the only product people get addicted to as children, taking away any ‘adult choice’. In the North East the average age children start smoking is just 144. It is time to give our next generation a better life, with decisive and bold action across the UK, which these plans represent. We know this proposal can work, and that there is public support for such measures5, and we need to act now to help smokers to stop, and to prevent children and young people from starting in the first place.”
This is because 75% of smokers say they would never have started if they were given the choice again6, with smokers that start younger experiencing higher levels of tobacco dependency and suffering a greater risk of lung cancer and heart disease during their lives7.
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 North East has suffered the worst harms from smoking over many decades – on our families, in our communities and on our hospital wards. Most families have lost a loved one to smoking.
“We will be encouraging all our partners to respond to this consultation. Smoking is still our biggest killer and costs the region around £1 billion a year in health and social care costs, fires and impact to the economy. We now have a chance to make a once-in-a-generation difference.”
Neil O’Brien, Executive Medical Director for North East North Cumbria NHS ICB, said: “Smoking is still our key driver of health inequalities and the many illnesses smoking causes puts a significant pressure every day on our NHS. As a GP I see first-hand the devastating effects smoking has on the health of my patients and the impact it also has on their loved ones too. We know that if we reduce smoking even further, we will not only enable people to live longer healthier lives, but it will have a massive and positive knock-on impact on our regional economy, which in turn will benefit the physical and mental health of our communities too.”
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH, said: “ASH congratulates the Government for paving the way in the King’s speech for a groundbreaking Bill to create a smokefree generation to be introduced to parliament imminently. No parent, whether they smoke themselves or not, wants their children to grow up to become smokers, which is why the smokefree generation policy is so strongly supported by the public. We will do all we can, working in lockstep with the health community, to ensure that the legislation is passed before the end of this parliament. “
Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant and Clinical Lead for Tobacco for the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Board, said: “Nobody wants our children to become the next generation of adults with smoking-related illnesses on our hospital wards. The Government’s consultation provides us with a once-in-a-generation chance to make a difference to young people and enable them to have a life without the addiction, cost and diseases caused by tobacco.”
Representatives from the region’s local authorities have also welcomed today’s speech.
Middlesbrough Council Chief Executive Clive Heaphy added: “The proposals from the Government have the potential to make a lasting difference for generations. I know from personal experience the horrific harm smoking can do. It has wrecked lives and placed huge pressure on the NHS for decades. Smoking contributes massively to the tragic health inequalities we see in Middlesbrough and is the biggest cause of preventable deaths. Cutting off the addiction for generations of people would be momentous.”
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. 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.
“It is great that we are talking about raising the age of sale. 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.”
Details of Government proposals outlined in the King’s Speech can be viewed here.