Plans have been announced for Oxfordshire to become the first ‘smoke free’ county in the UK by 2025.

Oxfordshire County Council has worked alongside local authorities, the NHS, and pressure groups to sign the NHS Smokefree Pledge. The Pledge was launched in January 2018 by Smokefree Action Coalition and has been endorsed by the Government and the NHS. It will require Oxfordshire County Council to implement smokefree policies recommended by NICE and target a smokefree future.

Oxford officials hope to cut the percentage of smokers locally to below 5%, five years ahead of the national 2030 target.

According to a report delivered to the Oxfordshire Health Improvement Partnership Board last month, it is estimated that around 10% of the Oxfordshire population are smokers, representing almost 55,000 individuals. Nationally this figure stands at 14.9%, down from 19.8% in 2011.

Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s director of public health claimed that the new plan, dubbed the Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy, represented a “step change” in smoking prevention.

Eunan O’Neill, Chair of the Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Alliance wrote in a draft report that “Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy will provide a bold vision, a set of clear actions and define how public sector strategic leads, local policy makers, commissioners, providers, businesses, the voluntary sector and most importantly the community itself can work together to reduce the number of people in Oxfordshire who smoke and eventually eliminate the use of tobacco from the County”.

The proposed strategy takes a four-pillared approach to reducing the prevalence of smoking. It will see additional focus on reducing the uptake of smoking, the creation of more smoke-free environments, enhanced regulation of tobacco products, and additional support for those looking to quit. Together these measures are intended to “help residents to live healthy lives.”

County councillor Andrew McHugh is Chair of the Health Improvement Board. He notes the often under-reported links between tobacco and crime and argues that that “tobacco is a driver of crime.”

“I am a member of the Thames Valley Police panel and a number of smaller shops are being broken into on a regular basis and having £3,000 of cigarettes stolen; cigarettes are the ideal commodity — they are high value and low bulk.”

Oxfordshire has also seen a number of police operations clamping down on the trade of counterfeit cigarettes. It is hoped that a marked reduction in smoking locally would reduce associated criminal activity.

Residents in Oxfordshire spend approximately £74m a year on tobacco products and it is estimated that yearly associated costs relating to health and social care reach £122m in lost productivity, health and social care costs.

More broadly, the annual cost of smoking to the UK national economy is estimated to be around £13.7bn.

As part of the Tobacco Control Strategy, Oxfordshire residents are encouraged to submit their opinion on the ‘smoke free county’ plans. You can do so before April 11 here.

Click here for more information to quit smoking in Oxfordshire.

Anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco should contact: 0300 999 6 999, or report it anonymously via the website.