Source: ASH

The CEO of anti-smoking charity ASH, Deborah Arnott, has announced she is to retire from the role after more than two decades.

A staunch adversary of big tobacco, Arnott has clocked up several campaign wins during her 21-year 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 tobacco 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.

At the time of her retirement, ASH said “parliament is expected to have passed revolutionary laws” which will raise the age of sale by one year each year “to create a smoke-free generation”. The legislation would mark “a fitting end to two decades of campaigning success”.

“I am proud to be leaving ASH at a good time and in safe hands,” Arnott said, “well on the way to delivery of our mission to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco. Our values, the strength of our team, the quality of ASH advocacy and networking, and our reputation and influence all stand us in good stead for the future. Whoever takes over from me is inheriting the leadership of an outstanding organisation.”

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.

The group had wanted an excise tax of £4 per disposable vape and called on the government to “tighten regulation and increase enforcement”. The government last month announced it would ban single-use vapes as well as introduce new powers to restrict flavours “which are specifically marketed at children” and ensure manufacturers produce “plainer, less visually appealing” packaging. Those powers will also allow government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and “away from products that appeal to them like sweets”.

ASH – which receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation – has started the recruitment process for her successor.

“What has been achieved in tobacco legislation over the last 21 years is in no small measure due to the brilliant work led by Deborah at ASH,” said Bob Blackman MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking & Health. “Working in collaboration with politicians from across the political spectrum, she has built and sustained a truly cross-party consensus on ending the harms from smoking. As a result, I have no doubt MPs from every party will vote to create a smoke-free generation later this year. We have much to thank her for.”