A recent independent stop smoking services review commissioned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid has now concluded and has presented 15 controversial recommended actions that could dramatically change the lives of smokers and the businesses they frequent should they come to pass.
The review, which you can learn more about in our previous report, has been carried out by ex-Barnardo’s Children’s Charity CEO turned anti-smoking tsar, Javed Khan. During the review, Khan had already begun calling the current cessation resource in the UK into question, and had proposed a number of potential outcomes of the report that would theoretically resolve shortcomings.
The radical proposals are not all guaranteed to pass into UK law, however they are being given serious consideration. This is predominantly down to growing fears amongst health experts and government that the UK’s goal of a “smoke free” generation by 2030 will not be achieved under the current remit. To become “smoke free”, the UK would need to see smoking rates fall from the current 15%, to 5% or below. It is currently expected this target will be missed by at least seven years without action.
Smoking to be Illegal Outside Pubs, Bars and Restaurants
One of the more jarring of the proposed changes to UK smoking laws is Mr Khan’s recommendation to extend the current smoking prohibitions for the hospitality industry. This would see smoking banned in beer gardens, outdoor dining areas, club and nightlife venue smoking areas, as well as beaches and other outdoor areas.
This change would effectively abolish the lingering olive branch the hospitality sector has been able to extend to smoking patrons since the indoor UK smoking ban of 2007. While there are certainly some who would welcome this change, the Daily Mail and other news outlets have reported the measure as the action of a “Nanny-Sate”.
The intention as described my Mr Khan, is to de-normalise smoking and prevent young people being exposed to second-hand smoke. Increasing the number of enforceable smoke-free public areas would certainly go some length towards achieving this, but the benefit should be weighed against the cost.
What Impact would this Change Have?
The hospitality sector was brought to it’s knees by the COVID pandemic, with thousands of jobs and in many cases whole businesses lost in the UK alone due to forced closures and extended lockdowns. The industry has struggled to get itself back to normality as restrictions have been steadily rolled back, and is still very much in a state of repair.
The emergence of dark kitchens, massively ramped-up home delivery services and a general change in attitude and lifestyle has already given many of us more reasons to have second thoughts about heading out for the evening, or anytime.
There is potential then, for the abolition of smoking anywhere near these premises, inside or out, to add another particularly powerful reason for us not to bother – ‘why go to the pub when I can buy cheaper beer from a supermarket to drink at home, where I can also smoke without judgement?’.
Of course, it would be a sweeping statement to assume this would apply to all, however there are certainly those who would be put off by the fact they can’t pop out for a smoke between, or during a pint with friends, or a meal with family.
The converse however may prove true – with an enforced guarantee that their children will not be exposed to second hand smoke or be exposed to smoking in general, we may see a marked increase in family-oriented dining and socialising.
This could be a boon to restaurants and gastropubs, bringing in a renewed wealth of family-footfall. This would offer little relief however to those venues that cater to a more exclusively adult clientele like high-end restaurants or bars.
Stop the Start
The above proposition is a part of a 4-part action plan set out by Mr Khan following the review. Part 2 of this plan is being called “Stop the Start” and is focussed on creating a world where smoking is far more de-normalised and where controls effectively prevent exposure to smoking at much earlier life stages than previously considered.
The over-arcing recommendation championed in this section of the review is an action akin to New Zealand’s recent smoking ban to al born after 2008. Kahn has proposed raising the age of sale for tobacco products by one year, every year, until nobody is able to buy them. While certainly an effective way to achieve a smoke free 2030, the intensity of this restriction has been hailed as particularly draconian, and likened to abolitionary movements throughout history, which have often been questionable at best.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: “Creeping prohibition won’t stop young adults smoking. It will simply drive the sale of tobacco underground and consumers will buy cigarettes on the black market where no-one pays tax and products are completely unregulated.” With many others claiming it would restrict personal freedoms.
Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Witty has backed the majority of the recommendations however, claiming attempts by tobacco lobbyists to make any debate around smoking legislation about health vs freedom are 'dishonest'. Saying the tobacco industry has addicted millions of Britons 'at a very young age'.
Alongside the outdoor smoking ban for hospitality venues and beyond, recommendations for this area of the plan includes massively raising tobacco duties by more than 30% on top of the current amount, while simultaneously strengthening border controls by abolishing duty-free entry for tobacco products at our borders.
This Means not only would it cost more for you to buy cigarettes here in the UK, you will also no longer be able to grab that bulk value pack when travelling through airports – the implications on airport revenue, another industry crippled by COVID, remains to be seen but could be significant - would we see vaping products like the EDGE GO replace these as an alternative? No comments have yet been made to confirm.
In addition, Khan has recommended that even more drastic revisions be made to cigarette packaging and even the sticks themselves – an extension of a recent proposal which called for smoking kills to be printed on individual cigarettes.
Khan has suggested radical changes and outside the box thinking when approaching the used as a deterrent, saying the current dark green/brown packets and toe-curling images have “lost their 'shock value' as it has been two decades since they were introduced”. The proposal includes making rolling papers and cigarettes unsightly colours like green and brown, while also adding a “minutes of life lost” scale to each one, effectively making a smoker watch their life grow shorter as they puff.
Extra licences for retailers selling tobacco products have also been proposed to reduce general access even further, with a total ban on sale from large supermarkets also threatened. This could massively increase the demand for vaping products and other nicotine alternatives across all retail channels, but may also see many businesses abandon selling such products at all if consumer behaviours are altered significantly enough that the profits do not justify the investment.
The Bigger Picture
Many of Khans changes appear to only be sustainable long-term if a society-wide change is actioned with a concerted effort on all fronts to ensure the economy is not hobbled at the expense of public health – a challenging line to draw when lives hang in the balance at either end of the scale.
It’s the classic debate of health vs wealth – should we willingly put livelihoods at risk to reduce smoking rates faster, or draw things out and risk losing even more lives to the negatives of tobacco consumption, which also puts financial pressure on institutions like the NHS?
There is much to be said about the outcomes of the report and the implication on our lifestyles, join us as we explore these 15 new proposals and how they could impact us all in our Khan Report blog series.