This Saturday marks 10 years since Smokefree legislation brought an extraordinary change to the way we experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places. It was the first, and the most important, in a series of ten pieces of tobacco legislation over ten years. We’ve seen cigarettes stubbed out in public places and become far less visible in shops, and had large graphic warnings put on packs starkly explaining what these things do to the human body – and all the misery and death they cause.
The law has played a key part in the huge cultural change we have seen in the past decade, especially among younger people, a change that has literally saved thousands from disabling chronic diseases and premature death, and undoubtedly the single most important public health reform in generations.
Smokers have seized the opportunity by quitting in unprecedented numbers and, of those still smoking, half have chosen to smoke outside of their own homes to protect their families from second hand smoke.
However, we cannot forget that tobacco remains the number one killer in England, and our focus is now centred on those for whom smoking prevalence remains high, especially the less affluent and people who have poor mental health. For the NHS itself, we want to see tackling tobacco dependence fully integrated into clinical pathways, particularly when people are actually in a hospital bed, as a win for both patients and for the future sustainability of the NHS.
Now into our fifth year, PHE is maturing and our strong start has been reflected in independent staff and stakeholder surveys. We are of course always looking for ways to improve and this week we have been benefiting from an international peer review as the nation’s public health agency, carried out by the International Association of National Public Health Institutes. Specifically, we are seeking their views on the extent to which our priorities and purpose are clear, how these are reflected in our work locally and nationally and how we deploy our resources in supporting this.
This international peer evaluation provides a practical way for public health agencies around the world to demonstrate their accomplishments, identify areas for development and improvement and share knowledge and best practice, and the report will be published in late October.
Last week PHE and the Royal Society for Public Health published Everyday Interactions, a resource to support healthcare professionals measure the impact they are having on improving people’s health. Two thirds of early deaths are preventable by addressing four simple risk factors: being overweight, smoking, binge drinking and high blood pressure. PHE’s All Our Health programme supports staff to use every contact between the NHS and the public as an opportunity to encourage healthier lifestyles. This new resource has been developed by frontline staff to enable them to demonstrate how this makes a difference.
Today, PHE and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have published guidance to improve air quality across England. Most of the recommendations are for local authorities, focusing on transport, planning and public health, but there are steps we can all take to help tackle air pollution, from walking or cycling on short journeys to not letting car engines idle, particularly outside schools, hospitals and care homes where people are particularly vulnerable. Improving air quality and better addressing mental health problems are likely to be two of our greatest priorities going forward.
Yesterday, PHE and the Office of National Statistics released new and very timely data on cancer survival. For the first time this allows us to look at one-year survival for nine types of cancer, broken down by stage, for everyone diagnosed with cancer in 2015. This is an important measure because, by knowing the stage of cancer at diagnosis, we can show how important it is to detect cancer early and measure the effectiveness of our early diagnosis, screening and cancer awareness campaigns. We are now working with the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership and the Union of International Cancer Control to learn from others and share our own work around the world, and to support our aim of matching or exceeding the best rates of cancer survival in the world. But whatever the international comparative data shows, there is no question that we must do more to prevent cancer caused by lifestyle choices and to diagnose cancer earlier.
And finally, this week is Breastfeeding Celebration Week. The UK has one of the lowest numbers of babies breastfed at six months in the world, and whilst we have seen a small increase in the numbers of women breastfeeding in England, we know that more babies and mothers would benefit if supported to breastfeed. Improving on this needs a multifaceted approach but we have made a start with our interactive Facebook messenger chatbot, Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend (BFF), which offers personal support at any time of the day or night to help mums to breastfeed for longer and early take-up of this is looking promising.
With best wishes,
Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK