Nurses will have access to training on helping patients quit smoking as part of a new national anti-tobacco drive, which also calls on health professionals to promote cessation at every opportunity.
Health professionals must “develop all opportunities” to reach out to the large number of smokers that are engaged with healthcare services on a daily basis, the Department of Health said today.
“We are at a pivotal point where an end is in sight and a smoke free generation a reality”
Launching its latest Tobacco Control Plan – titled Towards a Smoke Free Generation – the government said it wanted to see all health professionals “engaging with smokers to promote quitting”.
The government said it would “drive forward” implementation of smoke-free policies in all hospitals, mental health facilities and prisons.
Under the new plan, the government said it would provide access to training for all health professionals on how to help patients, especially those using mental health services, to quit smoking.
It has set a target of making all mental health inpatient services sites smoke free by 2018.
Referring to a long-standing debate within the health service, the plan highlighted that health professionals could be “reluctant” to offer mental health patients support to stop smoking.
“Some professionals mistakenly believe that stopping smoking could negatively affect their patients’ mental health, when it can actually reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression,” said the plan.
“We know the harms fall hardest on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society”
In addition, it instructed trusts to encourage smokers “using, visiting and working in the NHS” to quit, with the aim of making it “smoke-free” by 2020 – in line with an existing NHS England mandate.
Locally, the plan said the government arm’s length body Public Health England would ensure that health professionals had access to the information and training they needed to provide “effective help” for smokers to quit.
As part of this, it said Public Health England would support the provision of training on evidence-based interventions that support quitting, including e-cigarettes or other nicotine delivery systems.
The body would regularly update its evidence base on e-cigarettes and include the advice in all quit smoking campaign messaging, added the plan.
The government said it acknowledged that e-cigarettes was the “most popular quitting method” in England and, alongside local stop smoking services, could have high success rates.
The move follows debate over recent years about the place of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation, with some backing their obvious popularity but others cautioning that they continued to normalise the physical act of smoking and their evidence was lacking on their long-term impact.
In addition, the plan prioritised reducing rates of smoking in pregnancy and addressing the huge variation in tobacco use across the country, which disproportionally falls on vulnerable communities.
In 2015, there were almost three times as many smokers among the lowest earners in comparison to the highest earners, noted the report.
To achieve its aims, it said all local councils would “benefit from the support” of Public Health England experts who can help them develop tobacco control policies tailored to local needs.
“Funding must be found if the government is to achieve its vision of a “smokefree generation”
Meanwhile, local areas would be encouraged to identify and implement local smoke free “pregnancy champions” to promote implementation of best practice.
The plan coincides with the publication of a charity report today on the training needs of midwives and other obstetrics staff in helping women quit during pregnancy.
Launching the plan today, the government said the document would “pave the way for a smoke-free generation”.
Among its “bold ambitions” are to reduce smoking rates from 15.5% to 12% or less, reduce the prevalence of 15 year olds who regularly smoke from 8% to 3% or less, and reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% or less – all by 2022.
It stated that, in England alone, 79,000 people a year – equivalent to 200 per day – died from smoking at a cost of £2.5bn to the NHS.
Public health minister Steve Brine said: “Britain is a world-leader in tobacco control, and our tough action in the past decade has seen smoking rates in England fall to an all-time low of 15.5%. But our vision is to create a smoke-free generation.
“We know the harms fall hardest on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society,” he said. “That’s why we are targeting prevention and local action to address the variation in smoking rates in our society, educate people about the risks and support them to quit for good.”
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “We are at a pivotal point where an end is in sight and a smoke-free generation a reality. But the final push, reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, will undoubtedly be the hardest.
“Only by everyone pulling together can we hope to end the loss of life and suffering smoking has wreaked for far too long,” he said. “Public Health England will do everything possible to make this happen.”
Shirley Cramer, chief executive, Royal Society for Public Health, said: “We’re delighted that the new public health minister, Steve Brine, has taken just weeks to bring forward this vision of a smoke-free generation, with its commitments to a series of bold targets. However, this will be an uphill battle if public health budgets continue to get slashed at every turn.
“England boasts some of the fastest declining smoking rates in the world, and yet an astonishing 200 people still die every day as a result of smoking,” she said. “This five-year plan is an important step towards bringing this number down, but we must ensure that its targets become reality and that the government is held to account every step of the way.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking charity ASH, said creating a smoke-free generation represented a “welcome step change in ambition” from the government’s last Tobacco Control Plan for England and was a the goal that “should be achievable by 2030”.
But Ms Arnott warned that “funding must be found if the government is to achieve its vision of a smoke free generation”.
“The tobacco industry should be made to pay a through a licence fee on the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” she said. “Tobacco manufacturers are some of the most profitable companies on earth.”
Sharon Hodgson, Labour’s pubic health spokeswoman, said: “Whilst the plan sets out a bold approach to creating a smoke-free society, with a shift from national action to local action, what it fails to do is recognise the deep cuts being inflicted upon local councils who are seeing their public health budgets slashed.
“This plan can only be effective if the right level of funding is found to implement it, otherwise it is doomed to fail. Ministers cannot go on any longer ignoring the implications of their short-sighted cuts to public health budgets, which are vital to improving our nation’s and our NHS’s health,” she added.
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