An ambitious new strategy will halve the number of smokers, from 21 to 10 per cent of the population by 2020, Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham announced today.

The number of people smoking has fallen by a quarter in the past decade – just last year 337,000 people stopped smoking thanks to free support from the NHS. Under the new strategy, more smokers will be encouraged to get support from the NHS where professional help will be even more accessible and provide a wider range of options will be available to suit everybody.

The vision for a smokefree future builds on the 1998 strategy ‘Smoking Kills’. Since then more than two million people have given up smoking with help from the NHS; striking picture warnings are now on tobacco packs; the age of sale for tobacco has been raised to 18; and virtually all enclosed public and work places are smokefree.

Research shows that seven out of ten smokers want to give up. This strategy will ensure every smoker, no matter what level their addiction is or however many times they’ve tried to stop before, will be able to get help from the NHS if they want to give up. It also acknowledges that some smokers need longer-term support and treatment, but that is better than continuing to smoke.

This next push offers a radical vision for a smokefree future. It sets out several key commitments:

  • Stopping young people being recruited as smokers by cracking down on cheap illicit cigarettes. Immediate investment in extra overseas officers will stop 200 million cigarettes entering the UK every year.
  • Every smoker will be able to get help from the NHS to suit them if they want to give up – new types of support will be available at times and in places that suit smokers.
  • The Government will carefully consider the case for plain packaging.
  • Stopping the sale of tobacco from vending machines – a significant source of tobacco for young people.
  • Protecting everyone, especially children, from the harms of second-hand smoke by promoting smokefree homes and cars and reviewing smokefree law. This review will include, for example, whether to extend legislation from enclosed public places and workplaces to areas like entrances to buildings.

The NHS is key to helping the many millions of people who try to quit each year but are unsuccessful. Individually targeted support and treatment will recognise that people have different triggers and levels of addiction. As a result, different methods will be used, including using nicotine replacement therapy for an extended period of time.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:

‘The Government has made massive progress on tobacco over the past decade. Ten years ago, millions more people smoked and many have died early as a result.

‘We’ve come so far and now we’ll go even further – to push forward and save even more lives. Today’s strategy renews our commitment to virtually eradicate the health harms caused by smoking, and I firmly believe we can halve smoking by 2020. In ten years’ time, only one in ten people will smoke.

‘Government should and will do everything in its power to protect young people. This includes putting a stop to cheap tobacco that is smuggled into the country by organised criminal gangs.

‘Most smokers start before they are 18, so we have to discourage children and young people from ever starting. Now that we’ve banned advertising and will soon see an end to attractive displays in shops, the only remaining method of advertising tobacco is the packaging. So we will carefully consider whether there is evidence for making tobacco companies use plain packets.

‘We will always help people to quit, and smokers should never stop trying. That’s the beauty of the NHS – it’s there to help everyone. One day, in the not too distant future, we’ll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place.’

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said:

‘We must keep pushing hard for a tobacco free future and keep up the momentum gained by England going smokefree in 2007. Since then, the number of people who have given up smoking has increased, so this new strategy and targeted support will help smokers who want to quit, to give up for good. It will also discourage children from taking up smoking and prevent a great number of unnecessary and early deaths.’

Although smoking rates are declining, the epidemic is far from solved, with more than 80,000 deaths attributed to smoking a year. Smoking costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year and our communities much more.

The recent success of the Health Act 2009 in banning the retail display of tobacco products and prohibiting the sale of tobacco from vending machines, will reduce exposure to advertising and remove the largely unsupervised sale of tobacco to children.