Could The UK Be Smoke-Free In Just 10 Years?

Smoking is on the decline in the UK, but could it be eradicated completely in just 10 years?

Peter Nixon, The Managing director of a US tobacco giant, has suggested that the UK could be cigarette-free in ten years time. Since the 2007 indoor smoking ban, the number of smokers in the country has fallen by around 2 million, but with 7 million or so still puffing away, 10 years might be an ambitious timeframe to wipe out smoking altogether.

“It’s one of those things where I think if we all sat down – and I mean the government, the industry, everyone – and said: how do we get rid of cigarettes in ten years in the UK? We could do it,” Nixon who heads up Philip Morris International (PMI) said yesterday, according to City AM.

If the UK had the resources, legislation and backing to eradicate cigarettes for good, this could be beneficial to the NHS and future generations, but the tobacco industry, according to Euromonitor (Statista), is estimated at almost 25 billion in the UK this year, up from 23.9 billion in 2017, so will that happen?

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Britain’s bad habit

The prevalence of smoking has most radically fallen in millennials and younger age groups. At the turn of the millennium, 26.8% of people aged 16 and over were smokers, but according to the latest NHS data, 15.5% of adults currently smoke, a figure down from 19.9% in 2010.

In part, this could be due to tobacco being less affordable than it was previously, but also an awareness for the detrimental health effects cigarettes have.

Nixon warned that at the current rate of change, it could take up to 40 years for cigarettes to be completely eliminated. There has though, been major legislation introduced over the past two years to reduce smoking. The first was the EU’s Second Tobacco Control Directive (TPD2), which was applied across the European Union and the second, introduced in individual countries, with Britain and France being first, was standardised packaging known as ‘plain packs’.

Plain packs ban all tobacco branding with the exception of the companies name and this has to appear in a specific font and size. The minimum number of cigarettes per pack was increased to 20, and 30 grams the minimum weight for tobacco pouches. Governments and leaders across the EU are clearly implementing legislation in an attempt to reduce the amount of people smoking, but will it be sufficient to eliminate cigarettes in Britain by 2028?

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The move towards vaping

Britain isn’t smoking as much, but it is vaping; is this better?

In 2016, there was an estimated 2.4 million e-cigarette users, and this represents around 5% of the UK population. The prevalence of e-cigarettes amongst 16 to 24 year olds, actually increased from 2% in 2015 to 6% the following year.

46% of e-cigarette users are vaping in order to stop smoking, with the next most common reason for using them because they are considered less harmful than cigarettes. Interestingly if you do smoke, the data shows you are more likely to think e-cigarettes are more harmful than those who are ex-smokers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has exhibited potential concerns over e-cigarettes and vaping, however Public Health England has said that they could be “at least 95% less harmful” than smoking cigarettes.

Photo via Lindsay Fox

Could Brexit bring a smoke-free Britain?

Nixon reportedly suggested that Brexit could offer an opportunity to re-evaluate and regulate on smoking and its alternatives. Perhaps even lifting the online advertising ban for e-cigarettes.

However, with everything else on the Brexit table – the NHS, pivotal trade deals in the EU and migration crisis caps – smoking regulations may not be top of the agenda, despite its long-term negative impacts on the health service.

Whether or not Britain will be smoke-free in ten years (or ever) will depend on the government, industry and direction the country heads post-Brexit, and currently, that is all up for debate.

Over the past two years, legislation has already made it more expensive to smoke and this, paired with, increasing health concerns and the rise of the e-cigarette, could be part of the cause of the millennial smoking decline. If cigarette eradication does become the objective; 2028 is an ambitious aim.

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