Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Every day a no smoking day soon?

Few people need reminding how bad smoking is for you. Even a majority of smokers want to give up. And, the ASA recently rejected complaints of the rather gory effects of cigarettes by the Heart Foundation as being necessarily graphic for public health. Smoking causes over 5M deaths globally each year (no doubt contributing to the 8M cancer deaths in the world each year) and kills more people than war, murder, Aids, TB and malaria - all put together.

And unless smoking rates are checked in China and India (the latter now introducing a ban on chewing tobacco) it will continue to kill even more people throughout the rest of this century. In UK it’s still over 100,000 deaths each year from tobacco, the biggest single killer, with the resulting cost and strain on the NHS. In UK we now have all cigarettes hidden behind cupboards in shops and supermarkets.

While this year should see the introduction of plain packaging – already available in Australia and Eire - to remove Marlboro etc branding (perhaps even the horror packs in Canada and Vietnam showing rotting teeth etc). Vending machine sales of cigarettes have gone and it’s now law to forbid smoking in cars with children.

But shouldn’t we do more? A stated ambition of the NHS is a Smoke Free England by 2020 (Finland estimates by 2025 for their citizens) which is looking unlikely given smoking rates stalled at c.18% and even a slight increase in under-16’s.

Surely there are a few simple ways to improve smoking reduction:

# ban smoking at outdoor tables in cafes and restaurants - one of the quirks of the smoking ban is that every outdoor table now seems to be reserved only for smokers

# designate public smoking and not-smoking spots eg a particular street corner etc – and not in parks or beaches

# end the range of cigarettes supplied to prisons by Aramark etc: why should public tax fund different choices of cigarette brands for criminals? And provide free no smoking patches etc and even early release for quitting smoking as part of a wider reoffending strategy

# issue retail store tobacco permits and specify brands etc – and gradually reduce both stocks and stores. At the very least stores will realise tobacco sales are coming to an end ever more rapidly and can source other more hi-growth products for sale

# create a smoker’s register for over 50’s (a habit that’s difficult to break after years of smoking) for tobacco prescriptions from pharmacies and smoking cessation aids as a full ban is introduced

# ban cigarette sales to under 21’s

# job creation in areas with tobacco factories for when production ceases

# increase the penalty from fines to jail sentences for stores carrying illegal tobacco

# end smoking in all vehicles: a distraction from driving like mobile phones

# redirect DFID and EU aid to Malawi one of the main suppliers of tobacco leaf and poorest nations in the world – for different crop production and subsidy/tariffs. Again if farmers know tobacco is coming to an end then they will seek other more viable crops

Essentially tobacco would then be a limited – and reducing - product and unavailable to be smoked except in the privacy of your home or certain public spots, and no nearer than say 20 feet of the huge majority of people that are non-smokers. And none of these reforms would be costly or complex to implement – with the possible exception of the smokers register – Big Government hardly acquits itself with glory where IT and databases are concerned.

And given at least 50% of smokers die off early, smoking will be a habit largely confined to the elderly, and by 2020 or soon after, rapidly falling to under 10% of rest of the population and then it will simply be banned, except with a medical prescriptions, like any other harmful and addictive drug. The only surprise is that it’s taken 60 years since cigarettes were first proven as the most dangerous product available.

A breath of fresh air for all of us.