Smokefree 2030

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 3rd November 2022.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 1:56 pm, 3rd November 2022

I thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and Mary Kelly Foy for securing this important debate. I add my voice to the voices of those who have wished the hon. Member for City of Durham a speedy recovery. A lot of the people who contributed to this debate, including the hon. Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), and for Blaydon (Liz Twist), and my hon. Friend Maggie Throup, who all spoke eloquently, have personal experience on this subject, and a real passion for and dedication to achieving a smoke-free England by 2030—a goal to which the Government are completely committed.

I am pleased to update the House on the Government’s work on the Khan review—the independent review of Smokefree 2030 published in June. Tragically, smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death across the country. There are still six million smokers in England, and up to two out of three of them will die from smoking unless they quit. Smoking causes seven out of 10 cases of lung cancer, and most people diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year. One in five deaths from all cancers in the UK was connected to smoking in 2019. Smoking substantially increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Smoking is responsible for around 3.7% of all hospital admissions, and so costs the NHS a staggering £2.4 billion each year.

People who start smoking as a young adult lose an average of 10 years of life expectancy, or around one year for every four years of smoking after the age of 30. As many hon. Members have said, action is vital if we are to meet the Government’s manifesto commitment of extending healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. The Government are committed to levelling up society and extending the same chances in life to all people across the country. As various Members have said, smoking is one of the largest drivers of health inequalities, and rates vary substantially across the country; we heard about that from the hon. Member for Stockton North. As Dr Khan stated in his independent review, smoking prevalence is four and a half times higher in Burnley than in Exeter, so there is huge variation around the country.

Smoking is a huge drain on the household finances of the most disadvantaged families. In Halton in Cheshire, smokers spend an estimated £3,551 a year on tobacco—nearly 15% of their income. That is a shocking statistic. Reducing smoking presents a huge economic opportunity to increase productivity and people’s incomes. Smoking is very high in certain populations, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash said, a third of all cigarettes smoked in England are smoked by people with a mental health condition—an incredible fact.

Behind all these statistics are individuals, families and communities who are suffering from the harms of tobacco. That is why we are so committed to our goal to be smoke free by 2030. We have committed to doing more to help smokers quit and to stop people taking up this deadly addiction in the first place, because we know that most smokers want to quit and many wish they had never started.

The UK is considered a global leader on tobacco control, and investment in evidence-based stop smoking interventions, a strong regulatory framework, local authority stop smoking services and the NHS has ensured that we now have the lowest smoking rate on record: 13.5% in England, down from 21% in 2010 and 45% in 1974. That is a huge change in our society.

In the 2017 tobacco control plan, we set a bold ambition to reduce smoking prevalence among 15-year-olds from 8% to 3% or less by the end of 2022. I am pleased to say we are well on track to meet that target. The Government have also committed to an escalator that increases duties by more than two percentage points above inflation until the end of the current Parliament. In 2010, the average price of a packet of cigarettes was £5.70; and in 2022 the average price is £12.72. Since 2010, duty on cigarettes has more than doubled, and a minimum excise tax has been introduced to increase the price of the very cheapest cigarettes, because we know that one of the most effective ways of stopping people smoking is making it more expensive.

On top of that, we continue to fund a range of comprehensive tobacco control interventions. We have provided £72.7 million to local authority stop smoking services through the public health grant, and more than 100,000 people have quit with the support of a stop smoking service in 2020-21. This year alone, we have provided £35 million to the long-term NHS commitment on smoking, which means that by the end of 2023-24 all smokers admitted to hospital, whether an acute hospital or a mental health hospital, will be offered NHS-funded tobacco treatment services. We will be using those regular touch points, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash suggested, to drive down smoking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East asked about maternal smoking, and the same model is being provided for expectant mothers through the new smokefree pregnancy pathway, including focused sessions and treatments. A new universal tobacco treatment offer is being piloted as part of specialist community mental health services for long-term users of specialist mental health and learning disability services, to help the most vulnerable populations.

The change in treatment for women who smoke in pregnancy is remarkable. Women now routinely get a carbon monoxide test. People will be offered support. In some cases, there are exciting experiments with vouchers and financial incentives that can help, particularly in some poorer communities, people to stop smoking. There is a lot of work on maternal smoking.

Since leaving the EU, we have implemented a new UK-wide system of track and trace for cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco to deter illicit sales. I have talked about how we have increased duties to drive up prices and to deter smoking, which would of course be undermined if illicit products were circulating.

We have limited the number of cigarettes that people can bring into the country via duty free to 200, making it much harder for those who want to illegally evade excise duties on tobacco. That will help to prevent the sale of cheap cigarettes, further reducing the illicit market.

Although smoking rates have fallen, we recognise that they are not falling fast enough. That is why we asked Dr Khan to undertake the independent review to help the Government to reduce the devastation that smoking causes. The review makes a number of bold recommendations.

Stop smoking services run by local authorities and funded through the public health grant continue to offer smokers the best chance of quitting, and people who get help from local stop smoking services are three times more likely to quit successfully than those who try to quit unaided. I pay tribute to the work of those services, and I assure them that they remain a key part of the Government’s smokefree 2030 ambition.