Source: ASH

Action on Smoking & Health has named its new chief executive ahead of the retirement of Deborah Arnott, who has led the charity for 21 years.

Hazel Cheeseman will take up the CEO role in October this year, having worked in senior roles at ASH for the past decade.

Cheeseman said it was an “incredibly exciting time to take up the helm” given the progress of the Tobacco & Vapes Bill, and the UK now “on track to be the first country in the world to phase out the sale of tobacco”.

“The question for the coming years will not be if we can become a smoke-free country but just how quickly this can be achieved,” she added.

Cheeseman – who became deputy chief executive of ASH in 2021 – has been instrumental in the development of the charity during her time there, having established the Mental Health & Smoking Partnership: a coalition of charities committed to ending the excess in premature death caused by smoking among people with mental health conditions; securing funding from NHSE to support tobacco dependency treatment services in the NHS; securing funding from Cancer Research UK to develop ASH research and programmes and producing innovative reports on how social housing providers can better support the nearly a third of tenants who smoke to quit.

“The future of ASH is in safe hands,” said Arnott. “Hazel is very well-connected and greatly respected in the health community, with all the knowledge, skills and expertise needed to lead the organisation. Having worked closely with her for over 10 years I know that she will be an excellent chief executive, and more than that will be an innovative public health leader, breaking new ground for ASH and accelerating progress towards a smoke-free future.”

Arnott announced she was to retire in February. A staunch adversary of big tobacco, she clocked up several campaign wins during her more than two decade-long tenure that have changed the way tobacco is sold in the UK, including putting tobacco products out of sight in shops and the implementation of plain, standardised packs. The ratcheting up of regulation – including the introduction of a ban on smoking in pubs and public places – has been accompanied by substantial declines in smoking prevalence, of more than half among adults.

ASH under Arnott was also “first to raise the alarm about disposable vapes fuelling a growth in underage vaping” and, while supportive of vaping as a smoking cessation tool for adults, campaigned against increasing youth use.

“Under Deborah, ASH has been a force for change over the last 21 years and we owe her a debt of gratitude for the contribution she has made to the nation’s health,” said ASH chair Professor Nick Hopkinson. “Hazel will continue that work ensuring that no group is left behind as we move towards being a country where smoking is obsolete.”