Health Inequalities: Office for Health Improvement and Disparities — [Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 26th January 2022.

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Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:02 pm, 26th January 2022

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Dowd on an excellent, well-researched speech and on securing this important debate.

Before turning to the exact subject of the debate, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for vaping, I want to reflect on the role of the predecessor body of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. Public Health England sought to be a practical institution, with evidence and pragmatism at the heart of its approach to public life. I want to pay particular attention to its work on tobacco harm reduction, which I have witnessed not only as a member of the APPG but personally. Since 2015, across seven evidence reviews, PHE reports on the role that e-cigarettes can play in a healthier society have captured the ethos of the organisation in its entirety.

The first report was a landmark publication for the vaping industry. It concluded—I hope that everyone in this House heeds this fact when reflecting on reducing inequalities born from smoking cigarettes—that vaping is “95% less harmful” than tobacco. In its report, PHE went on to look favourably on e-cigarettes, while others have sought only to fuel misinformation, risking lives by claiming vaping and smoking to be one and the same. They are not. It is because of that evidence-based endorsement of vaping that millions of smokers across England and—dare I say it?—across the world, who have exhausted all other routes trying to quit smoking, have a fighting chance with an incredibly successful product that is helping smokers to quit.

Smoking is perhaps one of the biggest contributors to inequality in our society, causing considerable damage to private and public health, and it has a high impact on physical and mental health. It is an expensive and addictive habit, particularly for those most disadvantaged in our society, where smoking prevalence is highest. Vaping is less expensive and is an effective way to stop smoking. It is therefore critical that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities recognises the role of vaping, picks up the torch left by Public Health England and continues to be a stalwart champion of tobacco harm reduction.

This could not be more important as we continue to wait for the Department of Health and Social Care to publish, first, its review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016—that review is now eight months late—and secondly, its new tobacco control plan, which is also late and nowhere to be seen. The APPG for vaping’s door is always open to the Minister, and I know that leading bodies such as the UK Vaping Industry Association would welcome the chance to work with Government to secure a future in which the health benefits of switching from smoking to vaping are fully realised. The UKVIA has industry-led solutions to many of the remaining concerns that prevent people from finally making the switch to vaping. Those solutions include the guidance it produced on introducing restrictions on packaging and branding. I support that paper, and can share it with the Minister if she wishes.

The UK is seen by many across the world as a world leader in tobacco harm reduction, with countries, smokers and vapers looking to the UK for guidance in this space. That reputation should not be compromised by the loss of institutional knowledge during the transfer of resource from Public Health England to OHID, and it should not come at the cost of a Government Department delaying publications once again. If the Government are serious about levelling up and wish to support endeavours to improve people’s lives, they must ensure that OHID adopts the same evidence-based approach as its predecessor to finding solutions for life-debilitating problems.

I once again express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle for having secured this debate. I hope that in responding, the Minister can provide clarity about the timeline for responding to the TRPR review and for the publication of the new tobacco control plan. I also hope that she agrees that the OHID must remain independent, with its institutional knowledge protected.