Special report: 10 years on from smoking ban, has Blackpool kicked the habit?

Fewer people than ever are smoking
Fewer people than ever are smoking
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Fewer people in Blackpool are smoking than ever before – but more are dying from smoking-related illnesses, The Gazette can reveal.

Since the smoking ban was introduced in July 2007,at least five per cent fewer people smoke in the resort now than they did 10 years ago.

But the number of smoking-related hospital admissions has also rocketed as health experts warned the benefits of the controversial ban are still waiting to be felt.

In the first of a three-part investigation, we look at the health implications of the ban, how smoking has become ‘taboo’ and the funding threats to helping others kick the habit.

Dr Arif Rajpura said: “Adult smoking rates have fallen nationally and in Blackpool as well. It has changed attitudes.”

More people in Blackpool are dying from illnesses associated with smoking than when lighting up in public buildings was first banned.

An investigation by The Gazette has revealed the number of smoking-related hospital admissions has also rocketed in recent years with more people here puffing away than anywhere else in England.

But with fewer people now sparking up cigarettes almost a decade after the new law was introduced, medics and experts say the positive effects of the ban have yet to be felt.

Speaking on the first of a three-day series, Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP, Conservative Paul Maynard, said: “The long-term benefits of the ban will take more years to fully present themselves. We need to make sure young people do not start smoking.”

And Dr Arif Rajpura, the director of Public Health Blackpool, said: “Most of the benefits will come in the long term, because we reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer.”

He added: “There have been a number of studies that have looked at health benefits and there has been some even in the short term.”

Between 2007, when the Smoke Free ban was introduced, and 2009, 1,140 people died in Blackpool from smoking related conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory failure.

From 2013-15, that number rose slightly to 1,188, in a town consistently shamed as one of the worst for the number of people smoking, including those who are pregnant.

The number of people who required hospital stays increased by a significantly higher number – from 1,801 in 2009/10 to 2,599 in 2015/16, an increase of around 30 per cent.

However, life expectancy in Blackpool has increased, with boys born between 2013/15 expected to live approximately one year longer on average than those born between 2005/07.

Girls will live a few months longer, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed, while Blackpool no longer has more people smoking, at around one in four, than anywhere else in England.

And the ‘healthy life expectancy’ – an estimate of how many years residents might live in good health – is also up, from 55 in 2009/11 to 56.4 in 2013/15.

It takes 10 years for the risk of lung cancer to fall to half that of a smoker, NHS figures show, and 15 years for the risk of a heart attack to fall to the same as someone who has never smoked.

Circulation is improved after just two to 12 weeks, while breathing problems are eased after three to nine months.

Mr Rajpura said studies had found a fall in the number of children developing asthma as a result of the smoking ban, and in the number of still-births, neonatal deaths, and babies being born under weight.

“Adult smoking rates have fallen nationally [19.3 per cent to 15.5 last year] and in Blackpool as well [from 27.7 per cent in 2012 to 22.5 last year]. We have seen a downward trend.

“The Smoke Free legislation in my experience has had an impact, and what we found is that people strongly support the legislation, and that has continued to rise.

“Lots of people don’t want to be exposed to second-hand smoke anymore. It has changed attitudes.”

Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Quit Squad, which helps people across the county kick the habit, said a review last year found ‘clear evidence the benefits are already being seen following smoking bans, with reduced deaths, improved respiratory health, and improved health of newborns.’

It added: “There are also reports of a 40 per cent reduction in heart attacks since 2007. NHS data suggests there is a clear association between the smoking ban and a decreased rate of hospital admissions for heart attack.”

Blackpool’s own anti-smoking service, commissioned by the council but run by an outside company, will cease from the end of September, with no more referrals being taken from Friday.

However, a town hall official said the cessation service would continue in a different format – while people can also ask their pharmacy, GP, or the national helpline for help.

Mr Rajpura said: “We are looking at a new model – we are trying to support more people to go through the Stop Smoking service, and get more people to quit.”

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England, said: “Most of us could make changes today, like stopping smoking, being more active, or eating better, that would allow us to look forward to healthier later years.”