I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2017-19, E-cigarettes, HC 505, and the Government Response, Cm 9738.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the very first time, Sir Henry, in my last appearance in this Chamber, and it has been a pleasure to have you as my constituency next-door neighbour for the last 18 years. I am pleased to have secured a debate on this important work undertaken by my Committee before this Parliament draws to a close. It is great that we have been able to hold the debate in the month of Stoptober, the big anti-smoking initiative, which I think has been successful, and which I remember launching in my time as a Minister, back in the day.
Statistics released by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2018 in England, 14.4% of adults smoked. That represents a significant advance in reducing the prevalence of smoking in our country; ONS figures show that smoking rates in England have fallen every year since 2011. It is important to say that there is one exception to that advance, and it relates to mental ill health—something I care a lot about. People with severe and enduring mental ill health tend to die much younger than others, by as many as 20 years, one key reason being the prevalence of smoking among that group, around 40% of whom smoke. Although we have been very successful in reducing smoking rates in the population as a whole, we have not been successful in doing so for those with mental ill health. I will return to that.
In Great Britain in 2018, there were approximately 3.2 million vapers—6.3% of the population—which marks a significant increase since 2014, when the figure was 3.7%. Why does that matter? The tobacco control plan stated:
“Tobacco is the deadliest commercially available product in England”— it is important to hold on to those words from the Government—
“with tobacco regulations serving to safeguard people, particularly children and young people from the avoidable disease and premature death it causes.”
The recent prevention Green Paper clearly articulated that some people are disproportionately likely to smoke, which we should all be deeply uncomfortable with:
“Smokers are disproportionately located in areas of high deprivation. In Blackpool, 1 in 4 pregnant women smoke. In Westminster, it’s 1 in 50.”
What an extraordinary contrast! Deprivation causes that significant risk to the health of mothers and babies.
According to Public Health England, vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking. That does not mean that vaping is safe, and it certainly does not mean that we should encourage non-smokers to start vaping, but based on all the evidence we have, vaping is considerably less harmful than smoking.