Government pledges a smokefree future

A plan to halve the number of smokers in England was announced by the secretary of state for health, Andy Burnham, yesterday.

The new strategy – seen by many as ambitious – aims to cut the number of smokers within the population from 21% to 10%.

The number of people smoking has fallen by a quarter in the past decade – just last year 337,000 people stopped smoking thanks to free support from the NHS, the government claims. 

And under the new strategy, more smokers will be encouraged to get support from the NHS where professional help will be more accessible and provide a wider range of options.

The vision for a smokefree future builds on the 1998 strategy ‘Smoking Kills’. Since then more than two million people have given up smoking with help from the NHS; striking picture warnings on tobacco packs; the age of sale for tobacco being raised to 18; and virtually all enclosed public and work places becoming smokefree.

Research shows that seven out of ten smokers want to give up, which is good news for dental hygienists encouraging smoking cessation from patients.

This next push offers a radical vision for a smokefree future. It sets out several key commitments:

• Stopping young people being recruited as smokers by cracking down on cheap illicit cigarettes. Immediate investment in extra overseas officers will stop 200 million cigarettes entering the UK every year.
• Every smoker will be able to get help from the NHS to suit them if they want to give up – new types of support will be available at times and in places that suit smokers.
• The Government will carefully consider the case for plain packaging.
• Stopping the sale of tobacco from vending machines – a significant source of tobacco for young people.
• Protecting everyone, especially children, from the harms of second-hand smoke by promoting smokefree homes and cars and reviewing smokefree law. This review will include, for example, whether to extend legislation from enclosed public places and workplaces to areas like entrances to buildings.

The NHS is key to helping the many millions of people who try to quit each year but are unsuccessful. Individually targeted support and treatment will recognise that people have different triggers and levels of addiction. As a result, different methods will be used, including using nicotine replacement therapy for an extended period of time.

Although smoking rates are declining, the epidemic is far from solved, with more than 80,000 deaths attributed to smoking a year. Smoking costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year and our communities much more.

Meanwhile, mouth cancer campaigners are calling for the introduction of a new HPV test in Britain which would help diagnose mouth cancer at an early stage.

The British Dental Health Foundation – organisers of Mouth Cancer Action Month – has welcomed the screening procedure which detects a virus strongly linked to oral and throat cancer.

World Cancer Day is organised by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and is backed by a new scientific report: ‘Protection against cancer causing infections’ which focuses on the nine infections that can lead to cancer.

Its aim is to increase public awareness on the prevention of cancer and enlighten patients on how a number of simple steps can significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer later in life.

The examination the BDHF want made available in the UK is for the oral human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, and can be tested in the dentist’s chair.

The test identifies one of two exceptionally dangerous forms of HPV long before the virus develops into cancer and creates lesions.

Chief executive of the BDHF, Dr Nigel Carter, stressed the importance of early diagnosis.

Dr Carter said: ‘Currently the best chance of beating the cancer comes from early detection, improving survival rates to more than 90%.’

Celebrated every year on 4 February, World Cancer Day is led by UICC and its member organisations with the support of the World Health Organization and key partners.

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