Oxfordshire to become first ‘smoke-free’ county in England

Oxfordshire is set become the first county in England to ban smoking outdoors as the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown comes to an end.

The county, which has unveiled plans to be the first region in the country to go smoke-free by the year 2025, will crack down on smoking later this month, with outdoor dining areas and workplace break spots as the top targets to go smoke-free.

The proposed ban, which has been described as a ‘long game’ to change smoking culture, aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco. 

Under the new proposal, Oxfordshire County Council aims to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the adult population to below five per cent by 2025 and reduce the smoking among workers to below 10 per cent by the same year. 

The priorities for the county’s smoking strategy this year include creating more spaces where people feel ’empowered’ not to smoke. 

Oxfordshire is set become the first county in England to ban smoking outdoors, with outdoor dining areas and workplace break spots as the top targets to go smoke-free. (Stock image)

Oxfordshire is set become the first county in England to ban smoking outdoors, with outdoor dining areas and workplace break spots as the top targets to go smoke-free. (Stock image)

Oxfordshire is set become the first county in England to ban smoking outdoors, with outdoor dining areas and workplace break spots as the top targets to go smoke-free. (Stock image)

The ban hopes to change smoking culture and also aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco. Pictured: Groups of people sit outside a Young's pub, called the Kings Arms in Oxford

The ban hopes to change smoking culture and also aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco. Pictured: Groups of people sit outside a Young's pub, called the Kings Arms in Oxford

The ban hopes to change smoking culture and also aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco. Pictured: Groups of people sit outside a Young’s pub, called the Kings Arms in Oxford

This would include encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories, or by creating smoke-free areas in newly created pavement dining areas. 

Oxfordshire’s public health director, Ansaf Azhar last week said the move aimed to ‘create an environment in which not smoking is encouraged’.  

He said: ‘It is not about telling people not to smoke.

‘It is about moving and creating an environment in which not smoking is encouraged and they are empowered to do so.

‘But that is not going to happen overnight.’

Dr Adam Briggs, the public health official leading the strategy, added: ‘We have got a condition that is entirely a commercially driven cause of death and disease.

‘It is impossible to be on the wrong side of history with tobacco consumption.’

He also referred to figures given by the chief medical officer Chris Whitty at a recent conference, who said more than 90,000 people died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid-19.       

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said more than 90,000 people had died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said more than 90,000 people had died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said more than 90,000 people had died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid

The plans will include  encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories. Pictured: Diners sit outside on the terrace of the Trout Inn in Oxford

The plans will include  encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories. Pictured: Diners sit outside on the terrace of the Trout Inn in Oxford

The plans will include  encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories. Pictured: Diners sit outside on the terrace of the Trout Inn in Oxford

A report by Dr Briggs said smoking was the leading cause of preventable deaths in Oxfordshire, costing £120m to the public purse each year.

ARE SMOKING RATES FALLING FASTER THAN EVER? 

Smoking rates in the UK are falling faster than they have in more than a decade, according to official figures from the Government.

Figures in September showed just 15 per cent of the population regularly smoked cigarettes at the end of July – down from 17.2 per cent in 2018.

This meant 200 people quit the deadly habit every hour in 2019, cutting the number of smokers from 7.8million to 6.8million in a year.

Statisticians said if the trend continued to the end of the year, it would be the biggest drop since 2008-2009 when it plummeted from 24.2 to 22 per cent.

Around 7.4million people in the UK regularly smoke tobacco, along with about a billion people – mostly men – worldwide.

Government initiatives to cut smoking rates have been introduced regularly over the past 15 years in the UK.

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While 12 per cent of Oxfordshire’s population currently smoke, people earning lower incomes, those with mental illnesses, the homeless and travellers, all have a higher rate of smoking.

Andrew McHugh, a member of the health improvement partnership board, said he had asked Cherwell District Council, where he is a councillor, to make all new pavement licenses smoke-free.

Pavement licenses allow restaurants and bars to place tables and chairs outside their premises.

The council denied the request, saying that the easing of coronavirus restrictions was not the time to impose more rules on businesses.

But Dr Briggs asked members of the board, who sit on different councils around Oxfordshire, to make similar requests in the near future.

A pro-smoking campaign group called The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) has criticised the plans.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: ‘It’s no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke, and if they smoke outside during working hours that’s a matter for them and their employer not the council.’

Smoke-free is officially recognised by the Government when five per cent of the population or less are smokers. 

Last year, data from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found 2,132 people died from smoking-related causes in Oxfordshire between 2012 and 2017. 

ASH also said 23 tonnes of waste, or enough to fill 421 wheelie bins, is gathered in the form of cigarette butts in Oxfordshire each year. 

It was also estimated that smoking related house fires cost the Oxfordshire economy £2.7million. 

Government initiatives to cut smoking rates have been introduced regularly over the  years in the UK in an effort to reduce smoking.

Health warnings on packaging became mandatory in 2002, adverts were banned in 2003 and smoking indoors was banned in 2007.

And officials followed up the measures in 2017 with a policy that meant all branded packaging had to be replaced with plain greenish-brown boxes.

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