Decade of smoke-free laws celebrated with smoking rates at lowest level ever

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Smoking rates are the lowest ever recorded, said Cancer Research UK.
Smoking rates are the lowest ever recorded, said Cancer Research UK.
1 July 2017 12:15AM

Health campaigners are celebrating the 10th anniversary of smoke-free legislation in England, saying it has had one of the biggest impacts on public health over the last decade.

Laws banning smoking in virtually all enclosed public places in England - including offices, warehouses, factories, pubs, restaurants, railway stations, working vehicles and leisure centres - came into effect on July 1 2007, following Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cancer Research UK said there were 1.9 million fewer smokers in Britain compared with when the smoking ban was introduced in 2007, with smoking rates now the lowest ever recorded.

The proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who smoke had fallen to 17% from 26% in 2007, a record low and the biggest drop among all age groups.

A poll of more than 4,300 people for the charity found that just 12% favoured reversing the laws.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "We're thrilled that 10 years on, the smoking ban has been such an enormous success.

"As well as protecting people from the deadly effects of passive smoking, we've also seen big changes in public attitudes towards smoking.

"It's now far less socially acceptable and we hope this means fewer young people will fall into such a potentially lethal addiction.

"But the job is far from done when we still have more than eight million smokers in Britain and tens of thousands of children taking up the deadly addiction every year.

"We need this Government to continue focusing on tobacco and we urge it to publish the Tobacco Control Plan for England as soon as possible."

An Action on Smoking and Heath (Ash) report released to coincide with the anniversary said there was increasing public support for further measures such as a licensing scheme for tobacco retailers and a levy on the tobacco industry to pay for measures to reduce smoking.

A long-running Ash/YouGov survey showed support for the smoke-free legislation in England had increased from 78% of all respondents when it came into effect in 2007 to 83% now, primarily due to an increase in support among smokers from 40% to 55%.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "Over the last decade the Ash/YouGov survey is evidence of high, and growing, public appetite for government action to reduce smoking prevalence.

"It's especially telling that one of the most important factors in this growth is support by smokers – and this is happening at the same time as the numbers of people smoking have fallen to the lowest on record."

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: "The smoke-free legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.

"Young people have not had to experience the smoke-filled bars and clubs that once choked their parents and workers. They've grown up in a world where smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

"The law has played a key part in the huge cultural change we have seen in the past decade, especially among younger people, a change that has literally saved thousands from disabling chronic diseases and premature death."

A spokesman for smokers' group Forest said: "It's disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

"For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

"Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices."

Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: "As a nation we can be extremely proud of the progress we have made on smoking rates, which are at their lowest ever levels. We truly are world leaders in this area, through our smoke-free legislation, plain packaging laws and ban on smoking in cars with children.

"However, we know that smoking remains our biggest preventable killer and the job is by no means done. We will soon be releasing a new Tobacco Control Plan, to map our path toward a smoke-free generation."