15 years after the smoking ban government policy still lags behind public opinion

05 July 2022
4 min read

New data released July first, 2022, shows the level of public support for action on smoking continues to grow. The public support the Khan Review’s recommendations to make England smokefree: now it’s time for government to deliver.

July first, 2022, is the fifteenth anniversary of the 2007 Smokefree legislation that prohibited smoking inside public spaces such as offices, shops and pubs.

Support for government action on smoking has continued to grow since then, particularly among smokers, as demonstrated by a new report ‘15 Smokefree Years’ summarising results from the annual survey carried out since 2007 by YouGov for ASH.

Around three quarters (74 per cent) support the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition, with little difference between those who voted Conservative in the 2019 election (73 per cent) and those who voted Labour (79 per cent).

The public are way ahead of the Government, and right behind recommendations made to the Health and Social Care Secretary for the forthcoming Tobacco Control Plan by Javed Khan’s independent review.

Three quarters (76 per cent) support making tobacco manufacturers pay a levy to fund tobacco control and smoking cessation, 83 per cent support requiring retailers to be licensed to sell tobacco, 70 per cent support increased investment in public education campaigns, 67 per cent support warnings on cigarettes, and 62 per cent support making seating areas outside restaurants, pubs and cafes smokefree. These are all measures recommended by the Khan review.

The public were not asked about the Khan review proposal to raise age of sale by one year every year, but 63 per cent support the policy implemented by the US of raising the age of sale from 18 to 21.

In 2022 three quarters (76 per cent) of the public support government intervention or think government should do more, with only six per cent thinking government is doing too much. This includes 60 per cent of smokers, with only 18 per cent thinking government is doing too much to limit smoking, down from 51 per cent when YouGov first asked the question in 2009.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said “Three years since the Government announced its ambition and over a year since a new Tobacco Control Plan was promised, there’s no time to lose. Hundreds of children still start smoking every day and we’re nowhere near achieving the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition. Javed Khan’s independent review sets out a clear programme for action, supported by the public, now it’s time for Government to deliver.”

Bob Blackman MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health, said, “YouGov’s 15 years surveying public opinion show clearly that people want government to do more, not less to end smoking, and levels of support have grown over time. A large majority of voters for all the political parties, including my own, support the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition. They also support interventions recommended by Javed Khan’s independent review for the secretary of state for health, without which the Government won’t achieve its ambition. The government needs to listen to the public and implement ambitious plans to end smoking without further delay.”

The support for smokefree places legislation grew most significantly prior to the law being passed, and this was pivotal in securing government action. In 2005 the government tabled smokefree legislation pubs and clubs were excluded from the smoking ban, despite two thirds of the public supporting their inclusion, an increase from half the previous year.

However, parliament listened to the public and amended the legislation to include pubs and clubs. In the 10 years after the legislation came into force support continued to grow from 78 per cent in 2007 to 83 per cent, primarily due to support from smokers increasing from 40 per cent to 55 per cent.

Sue Mountain, a former smoker and cancer survivor, said, “When I was a teenager, you smoked to fit in. Down the pub I’d smoke at least one cigarette with every drink. In pubs, the air was a fog of smoke, and the walls were nicotine coloured. The smoking ban changed everything, and pubs and restaurants are cleaner, healthier, more attractive places as a result. I’m pleased that my grandkids can go for a meal without being harmed by second-hand smoke. Sadly for me, I was already so heavily addicted it didn’t stop me smoking, that took throat cancer. 

“Politicians were going to exclude pubs and clubs from the smokefree laws, worried that voters wouldn’t like it. It was the public that forced government to act then, and the government should listen again now. It’s time to turn words into actions and implement the Khan Review’s recommendations for a smokefree 2030 so others don’t suffer the way my family and I have.” Growing support for smokefree places among smokers follows a similar pattern in other areas.

In 2009 52 per cent of smokers supported banning smoking in children’s play areas, rising to 64 per cent in 2017, and 76 per cent in 2022.

When YouGov first asked about laws to ban smoking in cars carrying children in 2008, 77 per cent of adults supported the policy, but only 48 per cent of smokers. In the spring prior to implementation of the law, support by smokers had risen to 74 per cent. A year after the law had been implemented support from smokers had risen to 82 per cent, higher than the general public in 2008.

After legislation was passed prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children, support for extending the ban to all cars increased significantly from 45 per cent in 2014 to 59 per cent in 2015 and is now 66 per cent. Although there is not yet majority support from smokers, that too has increased, from 18 per cent in 2014 to 27 per cent in 2015, and in 2022 was 30 per cent, with 42 per cent opposed and 27 per cent neither supporting nor opposing or don’t know.

The Local Government Association and 62 per cent of the public support making outdoor seating areas of all restaurants, pubs and cafes smokefree. This is recommended by the Khan Review, would help de-normalise smoking and is a necessary step towards a smokefree 2030.

The Government is extending the pavement licence regulations for another year and could easily make smokefree status a licensing condition, but has failed to do so, throwing doubt on its commitment to make England smokefree by 2030.