Smoking ain’t what it used to be. Banned from advertising and glamorous sponsorship deals, multinational tobacco peddlers now push their wares in plain packets decorated with images of the horrible health conditions which smoking brings about. For the privilege, smokers will pay perhaps around £11 a packet, with 80% of this cost going to the taxman.
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Such measures have had the desired effect and the number of smokers continues to fall: 50 years ago around half the population were smokers; today it is a little less than 14%. But smoking’s long Thanatotic tail still impacts heavily on our health service. Lung cancer is still the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, accounting for over a fifth of all cancer deaths – around 100 a day.
So an ingenious new proposal which might help to stub out smoking together has attracted a lot of interest. A government-commissioned review by Dr Javed Khan, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, has made 15 recommendations aimed at making the UK a smoke-free country (defined as less than 5% of the population smoking) by 2030.
The most eye catching is a proposal to raise the age at which people can buy cigarettes by one year every year. The scheme is similar to one being run in New Zealand, where nobody born after 2008 will ever be allowed to buy cigarettes.
It’s bold, but I can’t help thinking we need to attend to the basics too. Cuts to local authorities since 2015 have led to smoking cessation schemes shrinking by a third. Dr Khan has called for increased investment of £195m a year in these services. Let’s hope the Government coughs up.