Department of Health aims to halve number of smokers by 2020

The government has unveiled ambitious plans to halve the number of smokers in the UK by 2020.

The Department of Health strategy aims to reduce smokers from 21% to 10% of the population, building on the fall 25% already seen over the past decade.

Initiatives will include offering every smoker NHS smoking cessation support and advice, stopping the sale of tobacco from vending machines, and a pledge to “consider the case for” forcing manufacturers to put cigarettes in plain packaging.

Following the banning of smoking in workplaces and public and enclosed places, the government has also said it will now review the smoke-free law, with the possibility that it could be extended to cover areas such as entrances to buildings.

The Department of Health estimates that smoking costs the NHS £2.7bn a year, with 80,000 deaths attributed to smoking annually.

Meanwhile, a survey by anti-smoking lobby group Ash has suggested that the rate of smoking among adults remains stubbornly static.

Its latest annual lifestyle survey found the rate was 21% in 2008, unchanged from what it had been in 2007, with in fact a small increase in those working in routine and manual jobs.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said that the findings were “disappointing but not disastrous” because the overall trend was still going in the right direction.

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