Health secretary Andy Burnham has pledged to halve the number of smokers in England by 2020.

Mr Burnham announced measures that aim to cut the number of smokers from a fifth (21 per cent) of the population to one in 10 in the next 10 years.

The target would mean around four million of England’s estimated eight million smokers quitting.

Mr Burnham is also considering whether to force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packets.

He said: “Today’s strategy renews our commitment to virtually eradicate the health harms caused by smoking, and I firmly believe we can halve smoking by 2020.

“In 10 years’ time, only one in 10 people will smoke.”

The commitments announced today include:

  • NHS support will be offered to every smoker who wants to give up, at times and in places that suit them.
  • The government will consider the case for plain packaging for cigarettes.

The Department of Health said 337,000 people stopped smoking last year with the help of free support from the NHS and the number of smokers has fallen by a quarter in the past decade.

In 2007 more than 80,000 deaths and 1.4 million hospital admissions were attributed to smoking and the Department of Health said the habit costs the NHS £2.7bn a year.

An estimated 200,000 young people start smoking every year.