Smokefree 2030 — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:18 am on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:18 am, 26th April 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Ms Nokes. I commend Bob Blackman and my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy for securing today’s debate. I also wish the hon. Member for Harrow East a very happy birthday.

Smoking, as we have heard, is not a lifestyle choice. It is a lethal addiction entered into by the vast majority of smokers even before they reach adulthood. It is an addiction that is increasingly concentrated among the most disadvantaged in society, fuelled by an industry—the tobacco industry—whose behaviour must be stringently regulated if we are to achieve our smokefree 2030 ambition.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, my constituency of Blaydon falls under Gateshead Council in the north-east, which I regret to say is the most disadvantaged region in the country. Smoking rates in Gateshead are particularly high, bringing disease, death and disability disproportionately to my constituency. In 2019, more than 17% of adults in Gateshead smoked, compared with 15.3% for the north-east as a whole, and far higher than the average for England of 13.9%.

That higher rate of smoking translates to a lower average life expectancy. The average male life expectancy in Gateshead is eight years less than in Westminster, and five years less for women. Smoking costs the NHS in Gateshead £9.3 million, and £5.6 million to local authorities for social care costs that are entirely due to smoking and entirely preventable. Tobacco addiction has been levelling down communities across the country for decades, and will go on doing so until the Government decide to get serious about delivering the smokefree ambition—for all in society.

Smokers in Gateshead spend on average £2,000 a year on smoking. The total spend in Gateshead is £54 million, an eye-watering amount of money that goes up in smoke for no benefit to the local community. Ending smoking will significantly increase disposable income in poorer communities such as those across Gateshead, helping to grow the local economy and to improve health and wellbeing for tens of thousands of people.

In March, I was pleased to be able to attend the event in Parliament marking national No Smoking Day and to reflect on the progress that has been made in tackling smoking over the years. Also, however, the event looked at what more needs to be done. The Minister spoke passionately about the Government’s commitment to making England smokefree by 2030, and said that investment in stop smoking services would be at the heart of the forthcoming tobacco control plan.

I agree wholeheartedly. Smokers need to be motivated and supported to quit. However, the funding for stop smoking services has been cut by a third in real terms since 2015. That funding must be reinstated if the services are to play their vital role in delivering the smokefree 2030 ambition.

That is not the only area that needs extra funding to achieve a smokefree 2030. Smoking during pregnancy is the leading modifiable risk factor for poor birth outcomes, including stillbirth, miscarriage and pre-term birth. The Government’s ambition is to reduce smoking in pregnancy to 6% by 2022, but with rates at 9.6% in 2020-21, that is unlikely to be delivered.

The rate of decline in smoking during pregnancy has been higher in the north-east, and that is because we have invested in specialist interventions. We are delighted to see that initiative being rolled out across the country as part of the NHS long-term plan. Smoking during pregnancy rates remain too high, however, so the north-east has gone further by introducing voucher schemes to provide a financial incentive to pregnant smokers to quit. That is particularly powerful for women on low incomes. In South Tyneside, an area of high deprivation, the proportion of pregnant women who are recorded as being smokers at their time of delivery has dropped by a third in the three years since the scheme was put in place.

Maternal smoking cost the NHS £20 million in 2015-16, with more than 10,000 episodes of admitted patient care. Since smoking is so damaging, incentive schemes are cost-saving, with an estimated return on investment of £4 for every £1 invested. Implementing financial incentives at scale is a vital measure that needs to be part of the forthcoming tobacco control plan, which I hope to see included in the independent review—but it will need funding.

I will touch briefly on mental health. Much more investment is needed to tackle smoking among those with a mental health condition. As many as one in three smokers have a diagnosable mental health condition. The NHS long-term plan tobacco dependency treatment pathway presents a major opportunity to tackle smoking among those with serious mental illness, but many others are not in that category. We need to ensure that much more work is done on pilot projects for IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—counselling. Counsellors are willing to deliver such support, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.