HEALTH campaigners from around the country will gather in the North East today to discuss how to tackle smoking-related problems.
Some 300 delegates are expected to meet at Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham for the two-day conference co-hosted by Fresh, the region’s anti-smoking office, and the Association of North East Councils.
One of the key topics under debate will be if the North East has the capability of becoming England’s first no smoking region by 2030.
Discussions about an “endgame” for smoking are taking place in other countries such as New Zealand, Iceland and Australia, but this is the first major conference in the UK looking at strategies to resign our biggest avoidable killer to history.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “Most smokers get hooked as children on an addictive, poisonous product that kills half of long-term users, and end up bitterly regretting it. Tobacco is something that has harmed too many families.
“No-one is talking about banning smoking, but we believe it is time to start thinking about a time when the vast majority of people do not smoke, and how we can make smoking history faster.
“We don’t want children to grow up in families and communities where they think it’s normal to spend £7 a day on an addiction and die early from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.”
Responsibility for public health transfers from the NHS across to local authorities from the beginning of next month, bringing new opportunities to transform the health of people in the North East.
Experts from Action on Smoking and Health, the Royal College of Physicians and local authorities are all taking part in the conference.
Prof John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group is one of the leading guest speakers.
He said: “The North East has amazed everyone over the past decade with the massive steps taken to cut smoking, but there is much more that must be done to rid society of the harm caused by tobacco.
“Although they are now heavily taxed, cigarettes are more affordable in the UK now than they were in 1965. We still have glossy packs aimed at young people, and hundreds of thousands of children are still exposed to smoke in the home and the car.”
Coun Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, said he welcomed the transition of public health to councils as “it’s a chance to put the wellbeing and health of people in our communities at the heart of policy”.
He added: “I'm proud of the way the North East has shaken off its image as the worst area for smoking and now other regions look to us for ideas and inspiration.”