Cancer Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 8th December 2016.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 4:05 pm, 8th December 2016

There are aspects of that with which I agree. The reality is that tobacco is the only product in the world, which, if used in the way that was intended, will kill us. Therefore, controlling it is vital.

We know as well that those with complex medical needs have the highest smoking rates. I am talking about people who are unemployed, who have mental health conditions, and who are in prison. I am also talking about the people whom I am championing at the moment—the homeless. All of them are much more likely to smoke than others, and they are also more likely to have the most health problems as a direct result. It is quite clear that the most disadvantaged members of society are more likely to smoke and therefore suffer cancer and other health-related problems as a result. Clearly, we need to take action. Quitting smoking reduces the likelihood of having cancer. It is also key that lungs can recover if one gives up smoking. We must encourage people to give up smoking and, more importantly, to try to prevent young people from ever starting. Jim Shannon told us what happened to him as a five-year-old. I would not advocate that as a shock treatment. None the less, it is quite clear that stopping people from starting to smoke is the best way forward, rather than trying to get them to give up later in life.

The recent report “Smoking Still Kills”, which was endorsed by no fewer than 129 organisations, recommended that, as a target, we should reduce adult smoking to less than 13% by 2020 and to 5% by 2035. I take the point made by my hon. Friend Jo Churchill: that is not ambitious enough. We should be going for a smoke-free Britain, or, rather, a smoke-free United Kingdom. I must get my phraseology correct.

To achieve that target, we need mass media campaigns, which the Department of Health has ceased. We need stop-smoking services to be encouraged, promoted and funded across the UK, and local authorities should enforce the necessary activities and to do their job. We know that mass media campaigns are extremely effective and cost- effective in prompting people to stop smoking and in discouraging young people from starting. In 2009 we had funding of just under £25 million for anti-smoking campaigns, but by 2015—last year—that had been reduced to £5.3 million. That is a false economy.

If we had much better funding for mass media campaigns, I am sure we could reduce the incidence of smoking far more. Equally, we know that stop-smoking services across the UK have been highly effective in reducing smoking rates. Smokers are up to four times more likely to quit if they have support from specialist groups and smoking services, compared to quitting cold. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse referred to when he gave up smoking, and he can remember the time and the date when he did so. Most people who have smoked in their adult lives have difficulty giving up and they need help and support. We should ensure that that is available.

The sad fact is that right across the UK smoking cessation services are either having their funding reduced or being closed altogether. That is extremely regrettable. I suggested to the Chancellor that by putting just 5p on a packet of 20 cigarettes and using that money to fund smoking cessation services we could provide all the money that is needed to continue smoking cessation services across the United Kingdom. That, to me, would be a very sensible investment indeed.

Funding for trading standards has fallen from £213 million in 2010 to £124 million now; the teams have been cut to the bone and the number of staff working in trading standards has been reduced radically. That means fewer local controls to target illicit tobacco in the way we should, to prevent some very nasty products from being used by people across the United Kingdom. That is a retrograde step. We need to invest in those services to make sure that we deliver better health outcomes.

We desperately need a new tobacco control plan and programme so that we can see the radical targets that are needed and the investment required across the United Kingdom. We should be setting out our stall—we want a smoke-free United Kingdom not by 2035 or beyond, but by 2020 or 2025. We can achieve it with the right programme. The key point is that if we deliver this plan, we will cut the rate of cancer deaths and the number of people suffering from cancer, which will reduce the burden on the national health service and allow us to take that money from the health service to use on the more difficult cancers that colleagues have mentioned. Those cancers are difficult to spot, difficult to treat and need specialist drugs and specialist treatments.