A new green paper, released on Monday night to detail new health interventions, outlines a desire to make smoked tobacco “obsolete”.
It points to the ban on smoking inside public places in 2007 and the introduction of plain packaging on cigarettes and tobacco as previous steps to this goal.
Further measures hope to take the level of smoking down further and to eventually propose “an ultimatum for industry to make smoked tobacco obsolete by 2030, with smokers quitting or moving to reduced risk products like e-cigarettes”.
The paper states: “Thanks to our concerted efforts on smoking, we now have one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe with fewer than 1-in-6 adults smoking. Yet, for the 14 percent of adults who still smoke, it’s the main risk to health.”
There are goals in place along the way, such as reducing the rate of adults smoking nationwide to 12 per cent by 2022.
It goes on to state that smoking is “a major cause of inequalities” linked to ill-health and early deaths, which is “why the government wants to finish the job” in helping the population quit.
Smoking at present is more of an issue in areas of “high deprivation”, highlighting that in Blackpool one in four pregnant women smoke while in Westminster that figure is one in 50.
Previously, the Government had aimed to create a smoke-free society – with smoking rates close to zero – by 2025.
The paper, released on Monday, also lays out plans for increased spending on diabetes prevention, more alcohol care teams to be established and a shift in tact to see more emphasis placed on illness prevention as opposed to cures.
It also looks at new ways to tackle mental health problems and obesity, with measures related to the so-called sugar tax and the advertising of fast food.
Despite some of the measures being welcomed, the timing of the document’s release has proved controversial, with reports Health Secretary Matt Hancock clashed with Number 10 over the timing of its release.
A source close to Mr Hancock told PA he had not wanted to publish the much-anticipated document on preventing ill health until the new premier was in place, with it being slipped out hours before a new prime minister Boris Johnson was announced on Tuesday.
Departments were warned not to put out any policies that “might be seen to be binding the hands” of the new PM, the ally said.
“Matt was reluctant to publish because he wanted to wait until a new prime minister was in place,” the source said.
“The worries being that putting it out now, in the dying days of a Government, when you are going to have a new administration, potentially a new health secretary, potentially a new team, and then they are not really going to be bound by this…
“But Number 10 were really keen to put it out.”
According to the paper, if the evidence shows the soft drinks industry has not made enough progress on reducing sugar, the Government plans to extend the Soft Drinks Industry Levy – known as the sugar tax – to milkshakes.
In his leadership bid, new Tory leader Mr Johnson said he wanted to review the evidence on sugar taxes.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Hancock had questions to answer over the timing of the paper, adding: “It looks like he is trying to bury the bad news that he buckled under pressure from Boris Johnson and the corporate lobbyists running his campaign.
“With advances in life expectancy stalling, infant mortality rates worsening and health inequalities widening, this Green Paper is hugely disappointing.
“Proposals to extend the sugar tax to milkshakes have been shelved again and an expected levy on tobacco firms to fund smoking cessation services appear to have been kicked into the long grass.”
He said the document “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.
David Buck, senior fellow at the King’s Fund think tank, said: “The shabby way this consultation paper was released is disappointing given the significant public health challenges facing the country.
“The paper includes some welcome initiatives, for example on childhood obesity, mental health in schools, and intentions to move towards a smoke-free society.
“But, overall, it falls short of the scale and ambition needed to address the big health challenges we face as a society, including stalling life expectancy and growing health inequalities.”