Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Ministers aim to halve number of people smoking by 2020

There could be an extension of the current smoking ban in public places

A plan to halve the number of smokers in England over the next 10 years has been unveiled by ministers.

The number of people smoking has fallen by a quarter in the past decade to 21%, and the proposed target is 10% by 2020.

Measures being considered include removing branding from packets and banning cigarette vending machines, as will happen in Scotland next year.

Smokers' lobby group Forest criticised the proposals for eroding people's ability to make lifestyle choices.

Health charity Ash said that while it supported the plans in principle, there was a need for more detail and stronger pledges.

Graph showing proportion of people smoking in Great Britain

The government strategy includes a commitment to try to stop young people taking up smoking by cracking down on illegally imported cheap cigarettes.

Every smoker will be able to get help from the NHS to suit them if they want to give up.

One day, in the not too distant future, we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place
Andy Burnham
Health Secretary

And there will be a review of smoking legislation, which could see public bans extended to places such as the entrances of buildings.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "We've come so far and now we'll go even further, to push forward and save even more lives.

"This strategy renews our commitment to virtually eradicate the health harms caused by smoking, and I firmly believe we can halve smoking by 2020. In 10 years' time, only one-in-10 people will smoke."

He added: "We will always help people to quit, and smokers should never stop trying. That's the beauty of the NHS - it's there to help everyone.

"One day, in the not too distant future, we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place."

'Devastating impact'

The government said each year smoking caused 80,000 deaths and cost the NHS £2.7bn.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the strategy would "discourage children from taking up smoking and prevent a great number of unnecessary and early deaths".

The smoking ban in enclosed public places was introduced in Scotland in 2006, and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland separately in 2007.

Forest said the ban had had a "devastating impact" on community pubs and further restrictions would accelerate that trend.

Simon Clark, director of the lobby group, said adults should be allowed to make an "informed choice".

He said: "When the government starts setting targets it is rather dangerous because the only way they can reach targets is to introduce very illiberal, very draconian legislation.

"What we are seeing is a campaign of de-normalisation - I think it is creating a very intolerant, very divisive society."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "It's good the government intends to keep up the pressure on smoking, the biggest single cause of ill-health and inequalities in health.

"But we do need to see these good intentions backed up by sustained investment in effective strategies."

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