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Smoking Reduction - an International Public Health Success

August 29, 2017 8:02 AM

Smoke FreeIt is now 10 years ago - on 1st July, 2007 - that it became illegal to smoke in any pub, restaurant, night club, most work places and most work vehicles in England. This followed earlier bans - on 1st April, 2007 - in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And in the Republic of Ireland, a similar ban had been brought in three years earlier than that - on 29th March, 2004.

From August, 2008 cigarette packets in the UK had to carry picture warnings and in the same year in October the legal smoking age was raised from 16 to 18. In 2009 Scotland banned cigarette vending machines and the display of tobacco products in shops. Then in 2010 YouGov poll showed strong and growing public support for smoking bans and two years later tobacco product vending machines were also banned in the rest of the UK.

These measures have had remarkable public support and remarkable success. In the very first year after the ban the BMJ estimated that hospital admissions for heart attack had dropped by 1,200 and some time after that measurements showed that air pollution in UK pubs, bars and restaurants had dropped by 93%. Meanwhile there was a gradual but sustained reduction in the number of smokers from 22% of the population in 2006 to 18% in 2015, and this trend is continuing. Just in the first 3 months of the ban cigarette sales dropped by 6.3%.

The health benefits have been immense and have contributed to the increase in life expectancy over the decade of the ban. 1 million fewer people now smoke and the emphasis has shited to trying to protect children from the effects of smoke and in particular to trying to stop the serious effects that can result from smoking in pregnancy.

This public health activity in the UK has been mirrored elsewhere in the EU and from May 2016 a directive requests governments to implement a prohibition of sales of cigarettes in packets smaller than 20 and a requirement that 65% of the packaging must be covered by picture warnings.

Sadly, there are growing indications that tobacco manufacturers have shifted their marketing activities to the Third World to maintain the sales of their products.