Sheffield hoping to take leaf from Big Apple’s book in slashing city’s smoking rates

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Medical bosses hope to persuade 45,000 people in Sheffield to stop smoking as part of efforts to improve the city’s health - inspired by controversial but successful policies introduced in New York.

The city’s health team are aiming to reduce the number of current smokers in the population from 17 per cent to 10 per cent.

Smoking rates are still too high in Sheffield

Smoking rates are still too high in Sheffield

Such an achievement would cut avoidable illnesses by half, boost economic productivity and result in less money - around £150 million - being spent on cigarettes, and more on local goods and services.

Greg Fell, Sheffield’s director of public health and author of the report, said inspiration could be drawn from the way officials in New York managed to cut smoking rates in the city in the past decade, as well as tackling other health issues.

The report said: “In 2002, a dynamic doctor named Thomas Frieden became health commissioner of New York City.

“With support from the new mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Frieden and his health department team prohibited smoking in bars, outlawed ‘trans fats’ in restaurants, and attempted to cap the size of fizzy drinks, among other ground-breaking actions.

Sheffield housing.

Sheffield housing.

“The initiatives drew heated criticism, but they worked: by 2011, 450,000 people had quit smoking, childhood obesity rates were falling, and life expectancy was growing.”

As part of the plans to tackle smoking, a ‘Heart of Sheffield’ health programme will encourage people to kick the habit, while the city’s current Stop Smoking service is to be reviewed.

The report said that in Sheffield currently, ‘too many women take up smoking again after having their first child’, with smoking rates during pregnancy ‘much higher’ than the national average for England.

It said maternal smoking is one of the biggest challenges for health bosses in the city.

Maternal smoking rates are a concern in Sheffield

Maternal smoking rates are a concern in Sheffield

“By offering high quality, evidence-based support which is targeted to meet the needs of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged families and young children we have the best possible chance of improving outcomes and raising aspirations overall within our city,” said Mr Fell.

“Not only is this good for Sheffield’s potential, there is a high probability that this approach will release significant savings across all sectors in later years.”

Mr Fell said that, while New York’s public health director, Dr Frieden named the number of smokers as the single most important measure in describing the health of a particular population.

“His approach was one of scaled-up support to help people stop smoking on an individual basis, but also bold public policy initiatives to change the environment to increase the incentives to stop, and to not start.

“As an example, if we were to be similarly aspirational, we would need to reduce the proportion of Sheffield people who smoke from the current level of almost 18 per cent to 10 per cent over the next five years.

“Using public policy changes to make the healthy choice the easy choice - and maybe the default choice - is the most evidence-based, efficient and equitable way to support healthier lifestyles, including better diet and nutrition, being more physically active, consuming less alcohol, reducing drug misuse and practising safe sex.”

Mr Fell said the ‘classic causes of ill-health’ - things like smoking, poor diet, lack of physical exercise - were linked more to people’s environment than their genetic make-up.

He said: “These risk factors lie behind all of the chronic conditions associated with old age: coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes even common cancers.

“Income, social class and occupation are key to the variable exposure people have to the risk factors behind these chronic conditions. The result is the huge inequalities in healthy life expectancy that we see in Sheffield and elsewhere.”