Tobacco Control Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 19th July 2018.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health) 3:21 pm, 19th July 2018

That is important, especially when, as the Minister has acknowledged, we are in such straitened times when it comes to local authority budgets. I am sure that Fresh north-east will be very grateful for what he has said.

Sadly, other areas are not as lucky. They do not have a Fresh north-east; if only they did. Stop smoking services are roughly 300% more effective than quitting by going cold turkey, but in some places the specialist services are being decommissioned altogether. For example, in Blackpool, smoking prevalence is 22.5%, while the average for England is 15.5%, yet Blackpool Council recently decommissioned its specialist smoking cessation service, citing a number of factors including public sector budget cuts.

That example leads me to my next point. Between 2012 and 2014, the healthy life expectancy for newborn baby boys in England was the lowest in Blackpool at 55 years. Again, the shortest life expectancy among men was in Blackpool too, at 74.7 years. Interestingly, in 2014, Blackpool had the highest smoking prevalence at 26.9%. Wokingham had the lowest smoking prevalence at 9.8%, but the highest healthy life expectancy of 70.5 years. That is a 15.5 year difference between healthy life expectancies, and while there will be several factors in play in these figures, it is clear that smoking is one of the largest causes of health inequalities in England.

Some 26% of routine and manual workers now smoke, compared with 10% of those in managerial and professional jobs. This has slightly increased rather than decreased the inequality from 2016. Some 28% of adults with no formal qualifications are current smokers compared with only 8% of those with a degree. It is these people—manual workers or those from low socioeconomic backgrounds—who suffer the most when the Government cut spending to public health services. I therefore ask the Minister what steps his Department is taking to ensure that these people are reached by local smoking cessation services. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that smoking rates have on widening health inequalities, and how does he intend to address them?

Finally, I move on to smoking in pregnancy. The Government’s ambition to reduce smoking in pregnancy to 6% or less by 2022 is laudable. In 2015-16 the rate was 10.6%. However, new data published recently showed that the rate of smoking during pregnancy in 2017-18 had increased slightly, to 10.8%. It is therefore deeply concerning that the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group, which I recently met, has warned that this ambition is unlikely to be met unless urgent action is taken.

In 2010, 19,000 babies were born with a low birth weight because their mothers had smoked during pregnancy. Up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and around 2,200 premature births each year have been attributed to smoking during pregnancy. In addition, many other children will be three times more likely to take up smoking in later life because they live in smoking households. If we are going to have a smoke-free generation in the future, the Government must take urgent action to ensure that rates of smoking in pregnancy fall. We must not forget that it will be those very babies who will become the smoke-free generation that we all hope to see.

The current target is to reduce smoking in pregnancy to 6% or less by 2022. If that is achieved, it could mean around 30,000 fewer women smoking during pregnancy, leading to between 45 and 73 fewer stillborn babies, 11 to 25 fewer neonatal deaths, seven to 11 fewer sudden infant deaths, 482 to 796 fewer pre-term babies, and 1,455 to 2,407 fewer babies born at a low birth weight. That is something to aim for, but it will only happen if the Government take urgent steps to reduce the number of women smoking during pregnancy.