Smokers encouraged to quit this new year for their health

The NHS is launching a brand new smokefree campaign to encourage all 5.3 million smokers in England to make a quit attempt this January

  • Former England goalkeeper and ex-smoker David James urges parents to quit for their kids’ sake in poignant video campaign discussing own struggles to kick the habit
  • Research shows teens more than 3 times as likely to smoke if their parents, caregivers or friends do
  • Comes as NHS Smokefree campaign encourages 5.3 million smokers in England to make a quit attempt this January to improve health and reduce likelihood of young people starting
  • Major new survey shows three-quarters of people in England back government’s historic plans to create the first smokefree generation - regardless of age or region
  • First 259,000 vapes to be provided to local authorities nationwide to support smokers to quit under world-first Swap to Stop scheme

In a hard-hitting campaign film released today, former England goalkeeper and ex-smoker David James joins a number of other ex-smokers to discuss the influence their parents’ smoking had on them taking up the habit themselves and how being around children was their motivation to quit.

It comes as the NHS launches a brand new smokefree campaign to encourage all 5.3 million smokers in England to make a quit attempt this January - not only for their health, but also to help ensure young people are not being influenced to start smoking.

Research lays bare the stark reality - teens are more than 3 times as likely to smoke if their parents, caregivers or friends do. In a new, poignant film released today, the former England goalkeeper discusses how his family members and friends smoked around him when he was a youngster, which led to him taking up the habit. In the film, he describes how smoking impacted his performance on the football world stage.  

The UK is now in the lead to be the first country in the world to create a smokefree generation by phasing out the sale of tobacco, and is set to introduce a new law to stop children who turned 14 in 2023 - or are younger - from ever legally being sold tobacco in England.

Three-quarters (76%) of people in England support the principle of creating a smokefree generation a YouGov survey - commissioned by campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) - has found, with only 9% opposing. Support for creating a smokefree generation is similar regardless of age or region.

Former England goalkeeper, David James, said:

"I smoked for about 15 years and at the time, it was normal. My mum smoked, my friends smoked, it was around me. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked.

"Looking back, it had a huge impact on my health and performance at the time, I wish I never started.

"My health, my children and my fans were huge motivators for me to quit - I didn’t want younger people to see me smoking and think it was okay."

David James is joined by a number of other ex-smokers in the film to discuss the influence their parents’ smoking had on them taking up the habit themselves.

They are accompanied by Nick Hopkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, who was involved with the UK Millennium Cohort Study research, and TV doctor, Dr Sarah Jarvis, who talks through the wider impact of generational smoking.

Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, said:

"Smoking causes a range of diseases that affect people throughout their lives.

"Stopping people becoming addicted to smoking and helping those who have been addicted to quit are 2 of the most important measures we can take to improve health.

"Quitting will improve your health whatever your age and no matter how long you have smoked, it’s never too late to stop."

The government continues to go further and faster to support people to quit smoking. Under the world-first Swap to Stop scheme, the government has so far received requests from local authorities nationwide for an unprecedented 259,000 vapes.

Vaping is rightly used by adults as a tool to quit smoking, but the health advice is clear: if you don’t smoke, don’t vape - and children should never vape.

As part of the scheme, almost 1 in 5 of all smokers in England will be provided with a vape starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit. This is part of a series of new measures to help the government meet its ambition of making England smokefree.

Public Health Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said:

"Smoking is the biggest preventable killer in the UK and places a huge burden on our NHS.

"Cigarettes are responsible for 64,000 deaths a year in England alone - no other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users.

"That’s why we need to act now to prevent our children from ever lighting one. Our historic Tobacco and Vapes Bill will protect the next generation from the harms of smoking and risk of addiction."

Smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of death in England. Almost every minute of every day someone is admitted to hospital with a smoking-related disease.

Smoking costs the economy and wider society £17 billion a year. This includes an annual £14 billion loss to productivity, through smoking-related lost earnings, unemployment and early death, as well as costs to the NHS and social care of £3 billion. This is equivalent to the annual salaries of over half a million nurses, 390,000 GPs, 400,000 police officers, or 400 million GP appointments.

Reducing the prevalence of smoking will reduce those costs, lower pressure on the NHS and help the economy become more productive.

Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, Nick Hopkinson, said:

"We know that most people who smoke start as teenagers, and taking up smoking at a young age is linked to a greater risk of health problems later in life.

"Our research shows that the influence of family and friends is a significant driving force in young people taking up cigarettes in the first place, making them more than 3 times as likely to start smoking if their parents, caregivers or friends do.

"We must do what we can now to ensure our children are the first smokefree generation."

Research suggests that people who start smoking under the age of 18 have higher levels of nicotine dependency and are less likely to quit smoking later in life. Imperial College London’s analysis of UK Millennium Cohort Study data also found that 1 in 10 (10.6%) teenagers were regular smokers at the age of 17 - this equates to approximately 160,000 young people in the UK being regular smokers by the age of 17.

Currently, 4 in 5 smokers start before the age of 20 and smoking from a younger age is linked to being more likely to smoke in later years. This has a significant lasting impact, as someone who quits before turning 30 could add 10 years to their life.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said:

"Over three-quarters of the public support the Prime Minister’s ambition to create a smokefree generation.

"Legislation to end cigarette sales to anyone born on or after the 1 January 2009 will be crucial to delivering that ambition. But as role models for their children, parents who smoke can play their part too.

"Stopping smoking will not only improve their health and put money in their pocket, but also significantly increase the chances their children will grow up to be part of the smokefree generation."

TV doctor, Dr Sarah Jarvis, said:

"Smoking is highly addictive, particularly for our children. We know that most smokers start in their youth and many want to quit - but the addictive nature of cigarettes means they cannot.

"But there’s help available for those looking to stop smoking. The NHS has a range of free support, including local stop smoking services."

Better Health offers a range of free quitting support, including a local stop smoking services look-up tool, as well as advice on stop smoking aids including information on how vaping can help you quit smoking.

For free support to quit this January, search ‘Smokefree’.

YouGov survey information

The total sample size of the YouGov survey was 3,533 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15 and 17 November 2023. The survey was carried out online by YouGov. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in England (aged 18 and over).

Department of Health and Social Care
The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP