Smokefree 2030 — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 10:30 am, 26th April 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I begin by thanking Bob Blackman for his tireless work in this area, along with my hon. Friends, and for the way he opened the debate. I also wish him a happy birthday.

Over the past 50 years, positive steps have been taken towards ending smoking, on both sides of the House. I am pleased to be here today responding to the debate on behalf of the shadow health and social care team from Her Majesty’s Opposition, because, from my point of view, it is a matter of great pride that I was in Parliament when Labour’s smoking ban was passed into law in 2006. It has become one of the defining public health achievements of the last Labour Government. The positive impact that it has had on the health of the nation is plain to see.

However, there is still much more to do, as we have heard in various speeches this morning. Smoking continues to be the leading preventable cause of ill health and mortality in England. The NHS estimates that 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking each year, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related illnesses. Smoking causes 44,000 cancer diagnoses per year, with almost 70% of all cases of lung cancers caused by smoking.

Smoking blights communities right across the country and contributes to the yawning health inequalities that we currently witness. However, smoking affects not only those who choose to do it; it affects many people around them, too. For example, a child who is exposed to second-hand or passive smoke has an increased risk of cot death, and of developing chest infections, meningitis and many other serious conditions.

The consequences of smoking are stark and affect not only our health, but our economic prosperity. My constituency of Denton and Reddish in Greater Manchester sits across the boroughs of Tameside and Stockport. Each year, smoking costs Tameside over £95 million in lost productivity and health and social care costs, and in Stockport that figure is just above £77 million. In my constituency, 22% of adults smoke, which is well above the national average of 14.5%. We will never truly level up while smoking continues to hold communities and individuals in a vice grip. We need to take robust and radical steps if we are to have any hope of reaching smokefree 2030.

Unfortunately, as we have heard in various contributions, there has been characteristic dither and delay from this Government, I am afraid to say. We were promised an updated tobacco control plan last year, but so far it has failed to materialise. The Government like to talk the talk on smoking cessation services but, as we have heard from numerous contributions, they have brutally slashed the local authority funding that allows those very services to exist.

The public health grant has been cut by £1 billion in real terms since 2015-16, and stop smoking services have suffered a funding decline of around one third over the same period, as we heard from the hon. Member for Harrow East. The Government cannot have it both ways; either they are for a smokefree 2030, and therefore they should support smoking cessation services, or they are not, in which case they should ditch the warm words. I will take the Government at face value—they want a smokefree 2030—so let us get that investment reinvested in smoking cessation services and let us restore public health funding.

I would be grateful if the Minister set out in her response a timeline for publishing the next tobacco control plan, and I want her to commit to publishing Javed Khan’s independent review into smokefree 2030 policies by no later than the end of May. Furthermore, can she outline what plans her Department has to improve access to smoking cessation services, and will she admit that stinging cuts to the public health grant have left communities such as mine, and those of many other hon. Members here today, worse off?

Yesterday, Members voted on the Government’s Health and Care Bill. The all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health set out several recommendations, as we heard from my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham, on how to achieve a smokefree 2030. Several of those recommendations were tabled as amendments to the Bill. Labour Members were proud to support many of those amendments and proposals, yet the Government refused to back them, much to the disappointment of health leaders and politicians across the House.

The need for a smokefree 2030 has been reinforced during the course of the pandemic. We know that during the first year of the coronavirus crisis, the number of 18 to 34-year-olds who classed themselves as smokers increased by a quarter, from 21.5% to 26.8%. That is a huge increase and one that will have a lasting negative impact on the health of people across the country, unless they are given the tools to stop smoking for good.

In short, we are falling behind. We have a smokefree 2030 ambition, but very little in the way of funding and a seeming lack of urgency from the Government to publish the tobacco control plan.