It is my honour to be a co-chair of the drug, alcohol and justice parliamentary group, which is just one of the many parliamentary groups founded and facilitated by Simeon Andrews, who died suddenly last month. I was among a number of Members from both Houses who attended his funeral on Monday, and judging by the number of Members from every party who signed the early-day motion in his honour, many more would wish to express gratitude for his support over the years and send condolences to his partner, Cathy, and their daughter, Lilly.
As a member of the group, I draw colleagues’ attention to the tragic fact that drug-related deaths in this country are at an all-time high. This already alarming situation could be made worse by fentanyl and its related analogues. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. This drug has already contributed to the opioid death epidemics in both Canada and the USA. Members may recall that fentanyl caused the death of the singer, Prince, almost two years ago.
In England during the last year, there have been reports of drug-related deaths linked to fentanyl and an increase in police seizures, leading to health warnings being issued by Public Health England. The main supply of fentanyl in our country comes from China, from where the drug is smuggled by ship to the UK and then made available to users, mainly by sale on the dark net. With drug-related deaths in England and Wales at an all-time high, it is imperative that the Government act swiftly to prevent fentanyl significantly exacerbating the crisis. Will the Deputy Leader of the House please ask the relevant Health Minister to meet the drugs, alcohol and justice parliamentary group to discuss this pressing issue?
I would like to touch on another matter, which I hope will be of interest to smokers in this House and across the country. The UK Vaping Industry Association is the organiser of VApril, designating the coming month of April as an education and awareness month targeted at the 7.6 million smokers in the UK to help them to break their habit through switching to vaping and so improve their health. The campaign, fronted by TV doctor, Christian Jessen, will encourage smokers to take the VApril challenge. There will be vaping masterclasses at specialist retail stores across 70 cities in the UK, at which smokers will learn more about different products and nicotine strengths that can help them to quit smoking successfully.
A recent review by Public Health England highlighted that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and that it was one of the most successful ways to quit conventional cigarettes. Not only is vaping less harmful for smokers, but it is a lot less expensive than buying cigarettes and has none of the problems associated with secondary smoking. At least 40% of smokers have not even tried vaping yet, so I hope that next month will be the time that they do. I urge colleagues, especially those who are smokers, to find out more about the VApril challenge and to spread the word in their constituencies to help smokers move towards quitting cigarettes and improving their health, as well as their wealth.
Finally, I wish you, Mr Speaker, and everyone across the parliamentary estate a very happy Easter and happy recess.