E-cigarettes — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:24 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 2:24 pm, 31st October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate Norman Lamb on securing the debate, and I thank the whole Committee for the report, for its tone, and for the intelligent way in which it has approached the difficult subject of trying to stop behaviour that is detrimental to individuals.

We want smoking to reduce to zero, and for us to be smoke-free by 2030. It is an ambitious programme, but it will benefit many more people than just the individuals who smoke themselves, as it affects those around them. I thank the right hon. Gentleman, whom I have always highly respected, for his important work leading the Science and Technology Committee, and for his broader work on the health agenda. Although today’s debate might be his last in this place, I hope that it will not be the last time I hear him waxing lyrical on the airwaves about this subject. I say the same for Sir Kevin Barron, who has really been quite formative in this area, both on the Health Committee and in his work with the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health.

It is timely that we are having this discussion at the very end of this year’s Stoptober campaign; I pay tribute again to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk for his work in starting it. There is never a better time to stop smoking, and I encourage everybody who is thinking about doing so to visit their local stop smoking service, or to go online, and consider all the options available to help them to quit.

I am really proud of the tobacco control work over the past two decades and the progress that has been made, for which we have been recognised internationally. According to the Association of European Cancer Leagues’ tobacco control scale, the UK has been rated consistently as having the most comprehensive tobacco control programme in Europe. As we have heard from the numbers discussed, it is working—but we are not there yet.

Smoking remains one of the leading causes of preventable illness and premature death, with more than 78,000 deaths a year. That is not only a waste but a personal tragedy for all families affected. We are determined to do more, as set out in our tobacco control plan, the NHS long-term plan and the prevention Green Paper, which only concluded on 14 October. I am looking forward to seeing the results of that consultation.

Our ambition is to be smoke-free by 2030. We know that we need to work harder in certain groups, including pregnant women and those with mental health issues. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I was struck by the extremely high prevalence of smoking in some areas. He mentioned Blackpool but, as he knows from representing a coastal region, in many coastal areas there is a very high prevalence of pregnant women who smoke. They interact with many healthcare professionals during what should be the enjoyable, exciting time when they are expecting a baby. We should use every single one of those interactions to help them to quit.

I have already asked officials whether there are other forms in which we can message that particular group in a way that helps them to understand the risk, as well as the things that are available to help them. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about people with enduring mental health issues. Facilities should allow e-cigarettes and provide more support. That is an ongoing part of the agenda. I will write to Simon Stevens to see where we are, and I will let the Committee know.