Ten years ago one of the most important and popular pieces of public health legislation in a generation was introduced – the smoke-free law.
A decade ago in the north east, around 35 workers were dying each year from breathing in smoke at work.
Evidence has proven that passive smoking increases the risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease, and worsens conditions such as asthma among children.
Despite efforts of tobacco companies to oppose it, politicians overwhelmingly voted in favour of a law from which we are still benefitting and which will continue to protect children into the future.
Every local council, primary care organisation and hospital trust in the north east supported the law, along with thousands of members of the public. Environmental health teams helped to prepare businesses for a smooth implementation and compliance was more than 97 per cent from the start.
Despite claims that more people would be exposed at home, the opposite happened, with reductions in heart attacks and childhood asthma.
The law marked a real culture shift whereby it became no longer acceptable to light up anywhere and anytime. Credit is due to the smokers who quit for good, or who adapted to the law and took it outside.
The law is now supported by 86 per cent of north east adults, proving it was not only needed, but wanted, and is valued to this day.
Over the last decade the north east has seen the largest regional fall in smoking in England, with around 218,000 fewer adults smoking; a phenomenal positive change. We’ve also seen a decline in smoking-related diseases and have our lowest youth smoking rate on record.
Joint working by councils and the regional programme Fresh has brought awareness campaigns to millions of children and adults and helped thousands of smokers to quit. Our work has been recognised by the World Health Organisation.
The good news is that smoking rates continue to fall. The bad news is that tobacco is still our biggest killer. This is why we continue to prioritise efforts to reduce smoking.
With smoking having reduced by 41 per cent in just over a decade, we believe it is realistic to aim for five per cent or fewer adults smoking by 2025.
We look forward to making smoking history across all our local communities.
North East Directors of Public Health