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England’s smoke-free 2030 target almost a decade behind schedule

January 5, 2023

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The UK government’ ambitious target of achieving smoke-free status for England by 2030 will be missed by nine years, a new study has found.

The analysis by Cancer Research UK found that the target will now not be met until 2039, if the  recent trends continue.

In 2019 the UK government set a smoke-free ambition to achieve 5 per cent average adult smoking prevalence by 2030 in England. The projections for England by the charity, which use data to 2021, estimate that the average prevalence in England will reach 5.4 per cent in 2039.

Previous projection estimates using data up to 2018 suggested that smoking prevalence would reach 5 per cent in 2037.

Cancer Research UK has called on Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay to publish a plan for tobacco control, adding that this must include more action to prevent young people from smoking, and more funding for the measures and services needed to help people quit.

“Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of cancer and death in the UK, but the government has the power to change this. With bold action and strong leadership, we can ensure a future free of tobacco for reducing cancer and saving lives,” Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said.

“We urge Steve Barclay to continue his legacy of being bold with tobacco control to reduce the number of people getting and dying of smoking related cancers, relieve the pressure on the NHS, and save the country billions of pounds each year.”

Whilst smoking rates are declining, the pace of change needs to be around 70 per cent faster than projected to reach average adult smoking prevalence of 5 per cent by 2030, the study further noted.

The study also warned that the smoking could cause around one million cancer cases in the UK between now and 2040, if the government misses the target, and current trends continue.

In June, the government commissioned an independent review of tobacco control, the Khan Review, which was published setting out policy recommendations, including offering vaping as a substitute for smoking, that would see England become smoke-free.

However, the government has not yet responded to the recommendations.

Cancer Research UK asked the government to make the tobacco industry foot the bill if they cannot fund measures to help people quit as laid out in the proposed tobacco plan.

“Quitting smoking is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But people are rarely successful on their own – they need support and the right tools to help them quit. Despite this, budgets for stop smoking services have been repeatedly cut, and access varies greatly across the country,” Professor Charles Swanton, chief clinician of Cancer Research UK, said.

“If the government is serious about a smokefree England, action to create an environment that makes it easier for people to live healthy lives will be key. It must take on board the recommendations from the Khan review and publish a plan to stop people from ever starting to smoke and help people quit.”