Policy briefing

Towards a smoke-free generation

Read our policy briefing on the Department of Health's plans to create a 'smoke-free generation' by 2022.

Read our policy briefing on the Department of Health's plans to create a 'smoke-free generation' by 2022

The goal is to reduce the number of 15-year-olds who smoke
to 3% or less from the current 8%. Picture: iStock

Essential Facts

Currently just over 15% of adults in the UK smoke, the lowest level since records began. However, smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable deaths, with more than 200 every day. Meanwhile 8% of 15-year-olds smoke, as do more than one in ten pregnant women and more than 40% of adults with a serious mental illness.

Smoking rates are also almost three times higher among the UK's lowest earners compared with the highest.

In July, the Department of Health (DH) in England launched a tobacco control plan aimed at creating a smoke-free generation where the prevalence of smoking would be 5% or less.

Its goals are by the end of 2022 to reduce the number of 15-year-olds who smoke to 3% or less, reduce smoking among adults to 12% or less, reduce the smoking inequality gap between those in routine and manual jobs and the general population, and reduce the number of pregnant women smoking to 6% or less. It also aims to improve data collection on smoking and mental health to better support people to quit.

Implications for nurses

According to the plan, all healthcare professionals should be engaging with smokers to promote quitting. Both the DH and Public Health England (PHE) will work with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, charities and the research community to develop guidance and messages to help health and care professionals deliver stop smoking interventions. PHE will support training and access to information for staff so they can provide effective help.

For those working in mental health, the policy talks of 'an urgent clinical need' to improve the support that patients receive to quit smoking. Those with mental health conditions want to stop as much as anyone else, says the document, but healthcare professionals can be reluctant to offer support.

Some mistakenly believe quitting could negatively affect mental health, when in reality it might reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. In practice, there will be a full rollout of comprehensive smoke-free policies in all mental health units by 2018.

The plan also pledges more help for NHS staff to quit, including increasing access to evidence-based treatments for NHS staff and patients. Staff will also be encouraged to act as role models for a 'completely smoke-free NHS estate' by 2020.

Expert comment

prestonWendy Preston, RCN head of nursing practice and chair of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists

‘This plan has good aspirations but my worry is funding. This is key at the moment, particularly when we know that 59% of local authorities have reported that their smoking cessation services have been cut, with some withdrawing funding entirely.

‘When the evidence shows that smoking cessation delivers positive outcomes for smokers, and is the most effective way to help people to quit, cutting back budgets is a step in the wrong direction. To achieve these reductions, smoking cessation must be a priority, and we need a full service whatever setting you’re in, with all healthcare professionals able to deliver a brief intervention.’

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