Smokefree 2030 — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:30 am, 26th April 2022

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention and for the work that he has done on combatting smoking over many years. He raises the issue of smoking in pregnancy, which is the one target that the Government came closest to missing at the time of the last review. The target was 11%, and the Government just about achieved it. I am very clear that, for young women who are pregnant, we need to ensure that, if they smoke, they should be referred immediately to quitting services at the first meeting to discuss their pregnancy through the health service, and not just them but their partner as well. If both give up smoking, there is a strong chance that they will continue to not smoke. They need to understand the damage that they will do to their unborn child and the damage that they are doing to themselves. If we get to that point, it will improve the position no end. That is in the NHS plan, but for future years. I see no reason at all why that could not be introduced now. That is a management decision by the NHS, and I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister to encourage the NHS to do precisely that.

The all-party parliamentary group had an excellent meeting with the chairman of the independent review, Javed Khan. It was a very encouraging meeting, and we expect his recommendations to match the scale of the challenge, but unless his review is turned into a meaningful plan of action that is backed up by funding, it will not be worth the paper it is written on. We need new sources of funding, and the 2019 Green Paper recognised that we would need funding to end smoking, that there was pressure on budgets and that existing sources of funding were not sufficient. Three years and one pandemic later, the pressure on budgets in even greater. In its submission to me, the Local Government Association said that local authorities are paying some £75 million for quitting services overall. Clearly, they need additional funding to achieve what is required.

We are talking about disadvantaged communities, and levelling up is quite rightly a flagship policy for the Government, but there is no new funding to deliver on the bold ambitions set out in the levelling-up White Paper. The Institute of Fiscal Studies says that

“instead, departments will be expected to deliver on these missions from within the cash budgets set out in last autumn’s Spending Review. Departments and public service leaders might reasonably ask whether those plans match up to the scale of the government’s newfound ambition—particularly in the face of higher inflation.”

The levelling-up White Paper missions include narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy between the local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030, and increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. Smoking is responsible for half of the 10-year difference in life expectancy between the most and least disadvantaged in our society, so achieving the Government’s levelling-up mission on life expectancy will depend on delivering the smokefree 2030 ambition.

The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien, has said that the Government must “floor it” when it comes to prevention and public health, but we cannot floor it unless there is gas in the tank. Gas in the tank is what we are lacking right now. Funding for public health is in a parlous state. We must face up to the fact that funding for smoking prevention has been particularly hard hit.

After the spending review was published, the Health Foundation estimated that funding for smoking cessation and tobacco control had been cut by one third since 2015. The cuts in budgets for tobacco control are the falsest of false economies. Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, smoking cessation saves money, and with no negative side effects. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has estimated that, for every pound invested in smoking cessation services, £2.37 will be saved on treating smoking and smoking-related diseases, as well as increasing productivity.