SMOKING could become a thing of the past in Wales by the year 2030.

The Welsh Government has announced it wants to cut health inequalities by helping more people to quit, with a target of making a 'smoke-free' Wales by the end of the decade.

That means less than five per cent of the population smoking. Currently, around 14 per cent of people in Wales smoke.

Wales has already brought in pioneering new laws curbing where people can smoke in public. This year, it became illegal to smoke in school grounds, hospital grounds and playgrounds – and from next March there'll be no smoking in hotels or some types of holiday accommodation.

According to the Welsh Government, the main aim of the new 'smoke-free' plan is to increase public health and make a more equal society.

It said there were "strong links" between smoking and deprivation, and people with mental health conditions were twice as likely to smoke.

Lynne Neagle, Torfaen MS and deputy minister for mental health and wellbeing, said the government's ambition was to "support people to make choices to improve their health and wellbeing".

"Smoking remains the leading cause of premature death here in Wales and a major contributor to health inequalities," she added. "Whilst we have made progress in recent years in reducing the number of people smoking, we want to go further and be ambitious to create a Wales where smoking is far from the norm."

However, some campaigners have criticised the plans.

Responding to the launch of the consultation, Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “Tobacco is a legal product. No-one should be forced to quit smoking yet freedom of choice and personal responsibility are being replaced by coercion and creeping prohibition.

“If people choose not to smoke that’s fine but setting a target for a smoke-free Wales is a green light for politicians and campaigners who seem determined to regulate and control people’s lives.”

He added: “Instead of imposing further restrictions on adults who smoke, a more progressive policy would focus on education and harm reduction.

“Smokers should be informed about safer nicotine products like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco but ultimately, if adults still choose to smoke, that choice must be respected by government and society.”

The government's aims are backed by Wales' chief medical officer, Dr Frank Atherton, who said smoking was "extremely damaging to health" and in 2018 caused 5,600 deaths and 28,000 hospital admissions.

"We need to work together as a society, including government, health professionals and communities to ensure we are doing all we can to tackle smoking and reduce the ill health smoking causes," he added.

"I would encourage anyone wanting to give up smoking to access Wales’ free NHS support service, HelpMeQuit for help and support."

The Welsh Government has today launched a public consultation on its long-term tobacoo control strategy, titled 'A smoke-free Wales'. The consultation will run until January 31.