Wales politics

Smoking quit targets 'should be legally-binding'

A person smoking Image copyright PA

The Welsh Government should face legally-binding targets to reduce the number of people smoking in Wales, a lung health charity has said.

The British Lung Foundation wants statutory targets to be added to the Public Health Wales Bill, currently passing through the Senedd.

It said ministers should report to AMs annually on smoking prevalence rates.

A smokers' lobby group said the plan could encourage an "illiberal or authoritarian approach" from ministers.

Assembly members are expected to allow the bill, which introduces new regulations on smoke-free areas, tattooists and public toilets, to pass its next hurdle on Tuesday.

Welsh ministers already have a target to reduce smoking levels to 16% of adults by 2020.

Incentives

But the charity said it is simply a "health board and civil service target" and by making it legally-binding, ministers would have an incentive to meet it and resources would be made available to achieve this.

Joseph Carter of the British Lung Foundation said: "Given legally-binding targets like this are reserved for vital issues like climate change, doing this would be a clear indication that this issue is too important to ignore and would ensure resources are available to meet it."

He also called for localised targets, saying some parts of Wales are still seeing increases in numbers of smokers.

"Setting more localised targets would ensure that we see progress in all parts of Wales instead of hiding behind Wales-wide figures," he said.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the Welsh Health Survey of 2015 showed 19% of adults reported they smoked, down from 26% in 2003-04.

"This significant reduction means we have already exceeded our aim of reducing smoking rates to 20% by 2016 and are well on track to achieve our ambitious target to reduce levels to 16% by 2020," she said.

"While we do not feel statutory smoking cessation targets are necessary or workable, we are continuing to do all we can do reduce smoking rates."

'Free society'

However, Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said no government should "force people to quit".

"Setting legally-binding targets could encourage the government to adopt an increasingly illiberal or authoritarian approach to smoking behaviour," he said.

"Tobacco is a legal product. If people choose to ignore the health risks that's up to them.

"This is about freedom of choice and personal responsibility, concepts that help define a free society."

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