The UK Government is expanding its reach in another effort towards curbing national smoking rates as they work towards their goal of a “smoke free generation” by 2030. Both government and healthcare officials have been scrambling for new ideas in the wake of fears that this target, under the current cessation provision, cannot be achieved.
The latest step has been taken by a private sector ‘anti-smoking tsar’, The Guardian reports. The proposal involves an increase in the national legal smoking age, alongside viral cessation media campaigns. It comes following a significant series of events that has thrust vaping into the cessation spotlight, with the NHS conducting e-cigarette trials in A&E departments, and calling for devices to be submitted for medical licensing.
The Proposal would see the UK following the example set by New Zealand last year (2021), which saw any citizens born after 2008 banned from buying cigarettes and tobacco products altogether. With COVID youth smoking spikes in recent memory, it’s clear the UK Gov is willing to exhaust it’s options when it comes to hitting the 2030 goal.
A New Smoking Ban in the UK
The proposal has stemmed from an independent review into the nation’s cessation services, intended to identify gaps in services and new opportunities to help Britons quit smoking. Led by Javed Khan OBE, former CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, has suggested a more sever increase in the legal smoking age to 25 could be necessary to help curb smoking rates.
The philanthropist has the backing of UK Government, which gives this proposition considerable clout, and potential to become tangible. Sajid Javid, UK Health Secretary, commissioned Khan directly to conduct his review.
Given the current rate of cessation, measured against uptake and after a stark assessment of the UK’s current anti-smoking services, Mr Khan has said 'We are thinking seriously about the age of sale.' The report will assess the government’s current progress in its ambition to make England smoke-free by the end of the decade but faces scrutiny from khan for not going far enough. The anti-smoking tsar is contemplating whether there is an argument for 'for raising the age to 19, 20, 21, or even 25' here in the UK.
Modernising Cessation Campaigns
Mr Khan has tried to think outside the typical box of smoking cessation actions, particularly in the way in which Government and authorities promote the cessation message. Following the COVID pandemic, he has noted that social media played a pivotal role in the promotion of public healthcare messaging - 'Just look at the Covid experience, mass marketing has a big effect, it really works. The government went hell for leather, it made an enormous difference in vaccination rates,' he said.
During his review, Khan called for the public to weigh in on their own experiences via a successful Twitter thread:
“I want to hear your views and what we can do to support current smokers to quit, and to stop people taking up smoking.”
“How do we stop people, especially children and young people, from starting smoking in the first place?”
“Have you quit smoking for good? What worked? What do you think could work better?”
“Have you ever used a Stop Smoking Service to quit smoking?”
“Or spoken to your GP about it? What was your experience?”
One thing that has become clear throughout this review, but also in wider data sets regarding smoking cessation across different communities, is that the gap between different socio-economic groups is quite vast. Recent anti-smoking campaigns have called this point out, highlighting that rates of uptake were much higher, and successful quit attempts were much lower in poorer areas of the UK when compared to the more affluent.
Speaking about this disparity, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this:
“The pandemic has shown the resilience of the British public and brought communities together to look after each other in the most challenging times. But it has also exposed chasms in our society – particularly in health”
This is no doubt why, alongside the review led by Mr Khan, a secondary inquisition into a 'potential ethnic bias in the design and use of medical devices', being led by the University of Liverpool's professor of public health, Dame Margaret Whitehead is taking place.
The findings of the report are yet to be published however Mr Khan’s closing statement was a positive one:
“I am very pleased to be leading this review into such an important area of public health. My independent findings will help highlight key interventions which can help the government achieve its ambitions to be smoke-free by 2030 and tackle health disparities.”