New inserts in cigarette packs to help smokers quit

Government seeks views on adding pack inserts to tobacco products to encourage smokers to quit

  • Pack inserts are used internationally including in Canada and Israel, and proven to encourage people to give up smoking
  • Initial report on the Major Conditions Strategy to be published today

The government will seek views on adding pack inserts into tobacco products to encourage more smokers to quit as it launches a new consultation today.

Placed inside the packaging of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, they would contain positive messages to encourage people to quit and signpost them to advice and support. The messages set out the health benefits of quitting – for example, improvements to breathing within a matter of days and a 50% reduction in the risk of heart attack within a year – as well as showing smokers how much money they stand to save by giving up, with the average person likely to save over £2,000 per year if they quit.

Smoking remains the single leading preventable cause of illness and mortality in the UK. It results in nearly 4% of all hospital admissions each year – equivalent to almost 450,000 admissions. Tobacco-related harms are also estimated to cost taxpayers an estimated £21 billion every year, including over £2 billion in costs to the NHS.

Although smoking rates in the UK are at an all-time low, by taking further action, the government will seek to cut waiting lists and reduce the burden on the NHS. Introducing pack inserts into all tobacco products in the UK could lead to an additional 30,000 smokers giving up their habit – delivering health benefits worth £1.6 billion.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

"Smoking places a huge burden on the NHS, economy and individuals. It directly causes a whole host of health problems – including cancers and cardiovascular disease – and costs the economy billions every year in lost productivity.

"By taking action to reduce smoking rates and pursuing our ambition to be smokefree by 2030, we will reduce the pressure on the NHS and help people to live healthier lives."

The consultation – which opens today – will seek views on the introduction and design of pack inserts.

Pack inserts are already used in other countries – including Canada and Israel, with Australia also announcing its intention to introduce them – and there is evidence that they can be an effective means of encouraging smokers to quit. An evaluation of the policy’s impact in Canada found that almost 1 in 3 smokers had read the inserts at least once in the past month, and that those who were exposed to the inserts multiple times were significantly more likely to try to give up smoking.

The consultation builds on a recent package of measures designed to drive the government’s ambition to be smokefree by 2030 – which means reducing smoking rates to 5% or less.

These measures include:

  • Funding a new national ‘swap to stop’ scheme – the first of its kind in the world – to offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit, alongside expert support
  • Launching a financial incentive scheme – in the form of vouchers alongside behavioural support – to support pregnant women to stop smoking, with an aim to reach all pregnant smokers by the end of next year
  • A new strategy to combat illicit tobacco, which will outline efforts to catch and punish those involved in the illegal market

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said:

"Smoking is very addictive, and it takes smokers on average thirty attempts before they succeed in stopping, so encouraging them to keep on trying is vital.

"Pack inserts do this by backing up the grim messages about death and disease on the outside with the best advice about how to quit on the inside.

"They will help deliver not just the Smokefree 2030 ambition, but also the Major Conditions Strategy, as smoking is responsible for all six major conditions from cancer to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, as well as dementia, mental ill health and musculoskeletal disorders."

The consultation launch comes as the government publishes an initial report on its Major Conditions Strategy – which covers the six groups of conditions accounting for 60% of all ill-health and early death in England.

One in four people in England live with two or more major long-term conditions, and the initial report sets out the direction for the strategy to tackle these groups of conditions – cancers, cardiovascular diseases (including stroke and diabetes), musculoskeletal disorders, mental ill health, dementia and chronic respiratory conditions.

This includes by addressing key risk factors and lifestyle drivers of ill-health and disease, including smoking, which is a direct contributor to all six groups of conditions covered by the strategy. For example, it is the biggest cause of cancer, with one in every five cancer deaths in England connected to smoking.

A world leader in reducing smoking rates, UK levels are currently at their lowest on record at 13.3%. But across the UK, 1 in 7 adults still smoke – around 6.6 million people – and the impacts on the NHS and economy are significant.

Tobacco also costs the economy in England an estimated £14 billion in lost productivity every year, due to lost earnings, unemployment and early deaths. The average smoker stands to save approximately £2,000 per year from giving up their habit.

Department of Health and Social Care
The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP