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New actions set out to prevent smoking across Cambridgeshire

29 June 2023

A new set of actions has been proposed to help decrease the number of people in Cambridgeshire who smoke. 

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Adults and Health Committee today (June 29) agreed a strategy with shared targets to cut smoking and improve health.

There are an estimated 62,500 smokers in Cambridgeshire (13.2% of the population) and national estimates suggest that smoking costs society approximately £12.6 billion a year - including costs to social care, the NHS and lost productivity.

Since 2011 there has been a downward trend in smoking rates in Cambridgeshire, but in Fenland, rates are increasing at 27.8% of the population.

The strategy includes new research into the behavioural obstacles for local people in their efforts to stop smoking, new public campaigns, an emphasis on a ‘whole school’ approach to deterring young people from starting smoking, to increase the number of people using stop-smoking services, tightening up enforcement action against the sale of illegal tobacco locally and an application to become a national pilot area for the provision of free vape kits to people seeking to stop smoking.

The new research will enable the County Council to understand the barriers and enablers for prevention and treatment in areas and groups where smoking prevalence is higher.

Two existing Stop Smoking campaigns run annually by the County Council and more recently with NHS partners are to be supplemented by developing a joint local authority and NHS local marketing and communications strategy for stopping smoking in support of national and regional campaigns.

As the majority of people who start to smoke are under the age of 19, the County Council will expand and develop school-based initiatives that address both smoking and vaping in its Healthy Schools Programme.

The committee also recognised the need to tighten the regulation of the sale of illegal tobacco, alongside illegal sales of vapes to young people. Work is currently being done with Trading Standards in Cambridgeshire to strengthen its work around compliance and regulation through increased spot checks and enforcement.

Smokers are three times more likely to stop smoking if they receive support from an evidence-based stop smoking service than if they try to quit without any help. A further action will therefore be to increase the number of people who access stop smoking services and who make successful attempts to stop.

Cambridgeshire County Council will apply to become a pilot site for the national Swap to Stop initiative - a scheme to provide one million UK smokers with free vape starter kits. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are jointly proposing to apply for this initiative, given the very high rates in Fenland and the high number of homeless people in Cambridge City and Peterborough.

This will be part of plans to pilot a universal vape offer for a period of one year in the commissioned stop smoking service (Healthy You) to see if this increases engagement and quit rates.

In addition, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Tobacco Alliance will introduce a self-assessment questionnaire, backed by an optional challenge and assessment process from a team of expert and peer assessors. The results would enable health experts to refresh and develop the current Tobacco Control Plan in conjunction with the Treating Tobacco Dependency Programme.

Cllr Richard Howitt, Chair of the Adults and Health Committee said: “The costs of smoking to people and to society and its devastating impact on health have been laid bare in this report. It is important to acknowledge that our existing anti-smoking efforts have been important but are not enough.

“More people using stop-smoking services, extended actions with schools and tough action against tobacco smuggling are part of this innovative and ambitious plan by the County Council and its partners. I very much welcome attempts to understand what works and in particular to ensure that vaping is used to help smokers end their habit and not for young people to start smoking. I am determined that it can contribute hugely to our campaign to decrease the number of smokers across the county.

“I congratulate our Public Health team and thank all our partners in pursuing this new strategy. It is rightly challenging, but we must succeed to make the population of Cambridgeshire happier and healthier.”

The paper discussed by the Adults and Health Committee today (June 29) was a joint paper from Public Health and the Integrated Care Board (ICB) – reflecting the systemwide approach needed to address the problem.