With your support, we’ve been campaigning hard to persuade the government to bring in plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products. So far we’ve seen encouraging signs that this will happen. But what next? How do we keep up the pressure on the tobacco industry?
This week, we launched a new report, Tobacco Control Endgames: Global Initiatives and Implications for the UK. Written by Ruth Malone, and colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco, the report explores what the UK can learn from the rest of the world to achieve an end to the death and disease tobacco causes.
But what are “tobacco control endgames”? And what do we mean by a society that’s ‘tobacco-free’?
A ‘tobacco-free society’ is generally taken to mean one where only five per cent (or below) of the adult population smoke – that’s one in twenty people. At the moment, around 20 per cent of UK adults still smoke – five in twenty people – so there’s a lot of work to be done to reach that goal.
So thinking about an “endgame” means working out what it would take to get to that tobacco-free future more quickly.
Our new report isn’t an instruction manual to reduce smoking rates. There’s no ‘silver bullet’. But we hope that it will fire the starting gun to raise ambition and commitment to develop the policies and provide the investment that will speed-up progress and save thousands of lives sooner.
Why are we calling for a tobacco-free UK now?
Cigarettes are no ordinary products. In the last century tobacco caused an estimated 100 million deaths worldwide and if trends continue it will kill one billion in the 21st century.
“Without an explicit engagement with the idea that an endgame for tobacco is possible, such an outcome cannot be achieved” - Tobacco Control Endgames: Global initiatives and implications for the UK
Smoking remains the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer. In the UK, it’s the cause of more than a quarter (28 per cent) of all deaths from cancer and has killed an estimated 6.5 million people over the last 50 years.
In the UK, smoking rates fell by six per cent between 2002 and 2012, but recently that decline has slowed. In some countries, such as France and the Czech Republic, despite long-term declines in smoking, rates have actually begun to rise again. Action on tobacco requires long-term commitment, vision, and incremental policies, such as tax rises, to drive down smoking rates – alongside investment in support to help smokers quit.
What does this report add?
The report recommends that as a community we need to start talking about ending the tobacco epidemic sooner. Which is why on Tuesday 8th July, we hosted a roundtable summit of leading tobacco control experts, to discuss tobacco-free targets and strategies for faster progress.
The meeting included participants from Ireland who have already adopted a tobacco-free Ireland target of 2025, and Scotland who have an ambition of a tobacco-free generation by 2034.
The report reviews the range of innovative measures that have been presented in academic articles, and looks at countries that are making rapid progress to reduce smoking rates such as Australia, Finland and Canada. It also analyses what’s needed to achieve a tobacco-free UK.
The report recommends building commitment to a faster end to the tobacco epidemic, and increasing constraints on the tobacco industry’s capacity to “block, amend and delay” effective measures that will save lives.
This will mean the introduction of plain, standardised packaging of tobacco products – another key recommendation in the report. Tobacco marketing continues to be a big barrier to reducing smoking rates. And growing research and independent assessments have highlighted the role standardised packaging can have in reducing the appeal of tobacco products to children. We know that eight in 10 smokers start by the age of 19 – the beginning of an addiction that kills half of all long-term users.
We’ve got bold ambitions to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured – and a big part of this involves ending death and disease caused by tobacco.
We want the UK Government to share in our vision. We hope that this report starts the conversation of how, together, we can achieve a tobacco-free UK.
Chris Woodhall is senior tobacco control officer at Cancer Research UK
The End image from Flickr