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Public Health cuts threaten smoke-free targets

THE GOVERNMENT has just released a new Tobacco Control Plan – an updated strategy for reducing the number of smokers in the UK. The Plan has been welcomed by the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) – but with reservations.

The Control Plan says that 15.5% of the population are currently smokers and it aims to cut this rate to 12% over the next five years. Joining this target are two others:
cutting the rate of 15 year olds who smoke regularly from 8% to 3% (or less);
lowering smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% (or less).
A reduction on this scale should have a significant impact on death rates from smoking. Smoking rates in England are the lowest since records began, but the habit still currently kills 200 people a day in England alone.

ASH is pleased that the new Plan is much more ambitious than the Government’s last five year strategy and believes that by 2030 there should be a whole new generation of people who are essentially smoke-free. However, the charity cast doubt on how achievable the targets are given that there is virtually no funding for projects to deliver them.

Instead of finding funding to reach the new targets, the Government is telling Councils to use existing public health funding to meet them – and it will penalise them financially if they miss their local contribution to the national targets. This is very bad news for Councils, who have already seen central funding for public health cut considerably since this area of work was taken out of the NHS and given back to Councils in 2012.

The job will be particularly hard for Councils in poorer parts of the country, where smoking rates are significantly higher. But these are areas where the reduced levels of public health funding are stretched the tightest, as Councils also have to tackle the obesity crisis and a host of other public health concerns.

Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health, said, “Labour have long campaigned for a new Tobacco Control Plan, including a commitment in our 2017 manifesto […] This plan can only be effective if the right level of funding is found to implement it, otherwise it is doomed to fail. Ministers cannot go on any longer ignoring the implications of their short-sighted cuts to public health budgets, which are vital to improving our nation’s and our NHS’s health.”

•Read more about it:
Tries deny austerity is cutting life expectancy
NHS: Labour promises extra funds

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