The ‘Smokefree Generation’ must include people with severe mental illness

23 October 2023
By Ed Davie

Here at Centre for Mental Health, we’re urging people to support the Government’s plans to create a ‘Smokefree Generation’ with additional specialist quit support for people with severe mental illness.

Measures to reduce smoking in the UK have been a major public health success story, cutting smoking rates from over 80% (of men) in the 1940s to 13% now.

That 13% still represents eight million people, whose mental and physical health risks are worsened to the extent that more than two-thirds (67%) of them are likely to die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses.

For that reason, the Government has recently announced an ambition to create a ‘Smokefree Generation’, increasing the legal age for buying tobacco products by one year every year, so that children currently aged 14 and under will never legally be able to buy cigarettes. Government is also proposing a major investment in smoking cessation support and quit messaging.

Not only does smoking worsen poverty and physical health, which both harm our mental health, but it is also directly associated with worse mental health outcomes.

In addition, smoking is a major killer of people living with severe mental illness. Between 50-80% of people with severe mental illness smoke cigarettes – three to five times the rate of the general population.

Smoking causes half of all deaths of people with severe mental illness, significantly contributing to a life expectancy gap of about 20 years for this group compared to the general population.

Because smoking is so bad for mental health, and people with mental ill health in particular, Centre for Mental Health supports the Government’s proposals but is calling for extra support to close the health gap between people with severe mental ill health and the general population. People with severe mental illness, already disadvantaged, must not be left behind.

To support this Centre for Mental Health is calling for: 

  • Training for staff supporting people with severe mental illness to aid smoking cessation efforts, including maintaining smoke-free clinical environments
  • Regular physical health checks for people with severe mental illness including around their smoking status, with offers to support quitting
  • Additional specialist smoking cessation support based on the SCIMITAR+ model (an evidence-based specialist smoking cessation service for people with severe mental illness) including free therapies and nicotine replacement product substitution.

We have called for these actions in a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty and the Public Health Minister Neil O’Brien, and in our submission to the Government consultation in these proposals.

Please add your voice by sharing your views before midnight on December 6 and emailing your MP, urging them to vote for the Smokefree Generation measures.

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