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​Tobacco: Government needs to show same ambition across prevention agenda

Following plans for a phased ban on tobacco, the British Dental Association says Government must now show the same ambition across public health, given consistent failure to grasp the nettle on prevention in the face of deep and widening inequality.

The Prime Minister has proposed annual rises in the legal age for purchasing cigarettes. The move, echoing an approach already in force in New Zealand, has potential to ensure the next generation grows up smoke-free.

Dental professionals are on the frontline in the battle against oral cancer - which claims more lives each year than car accidents - and gum disease. Smoking is one of the key drivers for both conditions.

Dental leaders stress ministers must now show they are serious about prevention across all areas of health. The ongoing access crisis in NHS dentistry is fuelling widening inequalities, with unmet need for NHS dentistry in 2023 estimated at 1 in 4 of England’s adult population. The first oral health survey of 5-year-olds published since lockdown showed no improvements in decay levels and a widening gap between rich and poor. The Government pledged a recovery plan for NHS dentistry in April 2023 that remains unpublished. Its official response to the Health and Social Care Committee’s damning inquiry into NHS dentistry has been overdue since 14 September.

The professional body has lamented drift on bans on prime-time junk food advertising and on buy one get one free offers for products high in sugar.

Despite the Health and Care Act ‘simplifying’ the process for water fluoridation, there is no indication capital funding is being brought forward for rollout.

The public health grant – used by local authorities to fund vital preventive services – has been cut by a quarter since 2015 in real terms, undermining existing preventive schemes.

Mick Armstrong, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Health and Science Committee said:

“Government seems willing to be bold and ambitious on tobacco but appears to be waving a white flag on the wider prevention agenda.

“Deep seated health inequalities in this country are widening with every passing day. We need real commitment to close that gap.”