Campaigners want to make cigarettes more expensive and too socially unacceptable for most people to continue smoking.
Senior doctors and anti-smoking campaigners have told Sky News they are working towards making the UK a no smoking nation within the next 20 years.
Leading specialist Professor John Britton has called on the Government to back the goal, describing it as entirely realistic.
“Andrew Lansley could make himself a legacy greater than that of almost any other Health Secretary in history,” Professor Britton, who chairs the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group, said.
“I think it will be entirely realistic for all practical purposes to eradicate smoking within 20 years.”
The Department of Health says it is open-minded about new restrictions
Although smoking rates are falling, each year it kills around 100,000 people, while 200,000 children and young people take up the habit.
Smoking is estimated to cost the NHS in England alone £2.7bn per year, with the cost to society as a whole estimated to be £13.74bn.
In the North East, which has successfully reduced the number of adults who smoke from 24.2% in 2009 to 21.5% in 2011, the goal of a smoke-free UK within two decades is being actively promoted by Fresh, the regional office for tobacco control.
“Our vision is to make smoking history for our children in the next 20 years and we know there are millions out there that back this,” Ailsa Rutter, the organisation’s chief executive, said.
Attempts have been made to make cigarettes socially unacceptable
Campaigners say they are not pushing for a ban, but want to make cigarettes more expensive, less well advertised and too socially unacceptable for most people to continue smoking.
Proposals to reduce the desirability of tobacco by forcing the industry to sell it in unbranded packaging are being assessed by the Government.
The Department of Health says it has an “open mind” about the idea, which is fiercely opposed by the tobacco industry.
UK campaigners have been spurred on by initiatives elsewhere, including attempts in Australia to make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after the year 2000.
Ms Rutter said public opinion has changed in recent years and that she believes the tide is turning against smoking.
“We really can push further,” she said. “We can make smoking history, and I do truly believe that it’s the right thing to do.”
Her vision is supported by Dr Chris Stenton, consultant chest physician at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary
He said: “I do look forward to the time when no one will smoke – 20 years or 30 years – but thereabouts.”If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!