Smokefree 2030

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 3rd November 2022.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 12:40 pm, 3rd November 2022

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Clearly, there is a difference in smoking rates across the country, and we need to ensure that that is addressed. I will come on to that in my speech in a few moments.

We need the levy to be introduced, so will the Minister commit to investigating the feasibility of a windfall tax, backed up by a polluter pays levy, to provide the funding needed to deliver smokefree 2030?

I want to talk about the need to protect generations to come. The Government are set to miss the ambition, set in the 2017 tobacco control plan, to reduce SATOD— smoking status at time of delivery—rates to 6% by 2022. Currently, 9.1% of women, or about 50,000 women a year, smoke during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy is the leading modifiable risk factor for poor birth outcomes, including stillbirth, miscarriage and pre-term birth. Children born to parents who smoke are more likely to develop health problems, including respiratory conditions, learning difficulties and diabetes, and they are more likely to grow up to be smokers. Reducing rates of maternal smoking would contribute directly to the national ambition to halve stillbirth and neonatal mortality by 2025.

Younger women from the most deprived backgrounds are the most likely to smoke and be exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy. Rates of smoking in early pregnancy are five times higher among the most deprived areas than the least deprived. That contributes to this group having very significantly higher rates of infant mortality than the general population. As such, if we can drive down rates of smoking in younger, more deprived groups we will then have a rapid impact on rates of smoking in pregnancy. Two thirds of those who try smoking go on to become regular smokers, only a third of whom succeed in quitting during their lifetime. Experimentation is very rare after the age of 21, so the more we can do to prevent exposure and access to tobacco before this age, the more young people we can stop from being locked into a deadly addiction.

If England is to be smoke free by 2030 we need to stop people from starting smoking at the most susceptible ages, when they are adolescents and young adults, and not just help them quit once they are addicted. The all-party group, which I chair, has called on the Government to consult on raising the age of sale for tobacco to 21, which, when implemented in the US, reduced smoking in young adults by 30%. This is a radical measure, but one that is supported by the evidence and by the majority of voters for all political parties, retailers and young people themselves. It would have a huge impact on reducing smoking rates among young mothers, who are more likely than older women to smoke. It would also reduce rates among young men, so reducing the exposure of young pregnant women to second-hand smoke throughout their pregnancy. If men smoke it makes it harder for pregnant women and new mums to quit smoking, and makes it more likely that mother and baby will be exposed to harmful second-hand smoke. Will the Minister consider committing to a consultation on raising the age of sale for tobacco, as supported by both the public and tobacco retailers?

Finally, I want to warn the Minister about the Institute of Economic Affairs’ alternative smokefree 2030 plan, which popped into my inbox yesterday. The IEA’s plan is an alternative that is entirely in the interests of the industry, which is hardly surprising given the funding the IEA has received from big tobacco. The IEA itself refuses to be transparent about its funding, but through leaked documents it has been exposed as being funded by the tobacco industry for many years. I am sure the Minister is aware that the UK Government are required, under article 5.3 of the international tobacco treaty, the World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control, to protect public health from the

“commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.

The guidelines to article 5.3, which the UK has adopted, spell out that that includes organisations and individuals that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry, which includes industry funded organisations such as the IEA and the UK Vaping Industry Association.

I look forward to hearing contributions from across the House. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will echo the words of his predecessors in his new role and restate for the record on the Floor of the House the Government’s commitment to complying with article 5.3. I hope he will state that on his watch the Government will continue to prevent the tobacco industry-funded organisations from influencing tobacco control policy.