Smokefree 2030 Target

– in Westminster Hall at 9:39 am on 20 June 2023.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:39, 20 June 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Smokefree 2030 target.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Evans, and thank you for stepping in to ensure that the debate can take place. We will be considering the 17 April statement to the House on achieving a smokefree England by 2030, cutting smoking and stopping kids vaping.

The debate is co-sponsored by me, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, and by my friend, Mary Kelly Foy, who is a vice-chair of the group. The APPG wants to ensure that Parliament has the chance to debate the announcement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien, and to consider whether those measures are sufficient to end smoking by 2030 and level up the health and wellbeing of some of the most deprived communities in the country.

At the outset, I commend my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for announcing the first tobacco control measures since the Government set out their Smokefree 2030 ambition way back in 2019. Since 2021, the APPG has been calling for greater funding to help smokers to swap and to stop, and to provide incentives to help pregnant smokers to quit. We are extremely pleased to see that those measures have been taken forward.

However, while the measures recently introduced by the Government to achieve a Smokefree 2030 are welcome, they are insufficiently ambitious, as they provide only a quarter of the funding called for by the Government’s own independent review last year. Meanwhile, big tobacco continues to make extreme profits selling highly addictive, lethal products that kill if they are used correctly.

The idea of a levy on the industry is popular and feasible, and is supported by voters of all political persuasions, as well as the majority of tobacco retailers. The manufacturers clearly have the money and high profits, so they should be made to pay to end the epidemic. This is more than just a health crisis because delivering a Smokefree 2030 is integral to delivering economic growth, which is a mantra for the Government and for Opposition parties.

Analysis conducted by Landman Economics on behalf of ASHAction on Smoking and Health—found that, in addition to causing around 75,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, in 2022 smoking cost the economy a staggering £173 billion, including lost productivity and premature death.

Let me break those figures down. The cost to the public finances was £21 billion, which is nearly double the tobacco tax revenues of £11 billion. The cost to the NHS was £2.2 billion, and to social care £1.3 billion. Those figures are substantial, but they pale into insignificance beside the £5 billion of social security payments and the £11.8 billion of lost income tax and national insurance—people who are sick from smoking are unable to work. That is public money, and it will continue literally to go up in smoke for years to come unless we take urgent and bold action.

I welcome the measures announced by the Minister in April, but I recognise that they still fall well short of the recommendations in Dr Javed Khan’s independent review. Of the four “must do” measures recommended by Dr Khan, only one—promoting vaping for adult smokers—has been fully adopted by the Government. The recommendation to improve prevention in the NHS has been partially implemented via the new NHS long-term plan with respect to tobacco treatment services, but those have been constrained by a lack of funding.

Dr Khan’s top two recommendations, which are increased investment in tobacco control and increasing the age of sale, have not been adopted, which has left tobacco control efforts desperately underfunded and put the Smokefree 2030 ambition in critical jeopardy. While I commend the Government’s ambition and commitment to make smoking obsolete by 2030, to date that ambition has not been matched by funding. Dr Khan’s independent review made it clear that a Smokefree 2030 cannot be delivered on the cheap. Speaking recently on improved public sector productivity, the Chancellor stated that

“we count the number of hospital treatments but not the value of preventative care, even though that saves lives and reduces cost.”

I could not agree more.

Public health interventions, such as smoking cessation, cost three to four times less than NHS treatment for each additional year of good health achieved in the population, yet this is where the largest budget cuts have fallen to date, with the public health grant falling by a quarter in real terms since 2015 and funding for tobacco control falling by almost half. Local authorities have done their best to continue delivering vital tobacco control activity despite these funding cuts, but there is much more that we can do. If the Government are serious about the Smokefree 2030 ambition, they cannot keep asking local government to do more with less. More funding must be made available to deliver it.

Last year, Dr Javed Khan called on the Government to urgently invest an additional £125 million per year in a comprehensive Smokefree 2030 programme. One of his options for raising that money was a “polluter pays” levy on tobacco manufacturers, based on the principle that those responsible for the problem should be required to fix it. The principle has been accepted on numerous occasions: the landfill levy; the tax on sugar in soft drinks; requiring developers to pay for the costs of remediating building safety defects; and, most recently, a statutory gambling levy. The “polluter pays” model would enable the Government to limit the ability of manufacturers to profit from smokers while protecting Government excise tax revenues. That will prevent big tobacco gaming the system as it currently does with corporation tax.

Despite paying little corporation tax, the big four tobacco companies make around 50% net operating profits in the UK—far higher than the average of 10% for UK manufacturers overall. Imperial Brands is the most profitable, with 40% market share in the UK and over 70% net operating profits in 2021. Why should an industry whose products diminish the health of users be allowed to make such excessive profits? A levy could raise £700 million a year while capping the profits on sales to ensure that the costs are not passed on to smokers. Some £700 million from tobacco manufacturers would more than cover the £125-million additional funding that Dr Khan estimated was needed for tobacco control, with money left over for other prevention and public health measures.

[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Amendments to the Health and Care Act 2022 calling for a consultation on such a levy were tabled by the hon. Member for City of Durham, who is co-sponsor of this debate, and were accepted in the House of Lords last year. Health Ministers were sympathetic, but the Treasury opposed the measure, so it was voted down by the Government, despite overwhelming public support for a levy. Some 75% of the British public think that tobacco manufacturers should be made to pay. My first question to the Minister is: can he tell me, if the Government will not commit to a levy on tobacco manufacturers, how, when and where will they find the additional funding needed to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition? Since 2020, public health Ministers have committed to publishing a new tobacco control plan, initially by July 2021 and then by the end of 2022—we are still waiting. The previous tobacco control plan expired last year, leaving us without a strategy or any targets for reducing smoking rates among the most disadvantaged groups.

In the absence of national leadership, local authorities are stepping up to the plate. For example, the London Tobacco Alliance, which I am proud to support, launched last year. It is leading the charge to make the capital smoke-free by 2030. I am sure the Minister will join me in commending the alliance and other regional partnerships across the country that are committed to tackling smoking in their communities. In place of a tobacco control plan, the Minister has said that tackling smoking will be “central” to the major conditions strategy. However, the recent call for evidence for that strategy was not reassuring, and certainly did not place smoking front and centre. My second question is: if the Minister will not commit to a new tobacco control plan—I wish he would—can he at least reaffirm that smoking will be central to the major conditions strategy and that further tobacco control measures will be included in the major conditions strategy when it is finally published? I assure the Minister that he has the full support of the APPG in his efforts to tackle youth vaping, and recent announcements by both the Minister and the Prime Minister are warmly welcomed.

My views on youth vaping were summed up expertly by the chief medical officer:

“If you smoke, vaping is much safer;
if you don’t smoke, don’t vape;
marketing vapes to children is utterly unacceptable.”

The APPG is deeply concerned about recent figures published by ASH showing that there has been a significant rise in youth experimentation with nicotine e-cigarettes, driven by cheap, colourful disposable vapes and child-friendly marketing.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I congratulate my hon. Friend and Mary Kelly Foy on securing this debate. Although I acknowledge that vaping has a role in helping adults to quit tobacco smoking, youth vaping has unintended consequences, as my hon. Friend is starting to elaborate. We have seen a surge in such vaping, and there are huge health and environmental concerns. As he said, the products are targeted at young people, with colourful packaging and flavouring. The Government have taken some strong steps. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to go faster to stop this unintended public-health ticking time bomb?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It reminds me that 11 years ago I led a debate in this place on introducing standardised packaging for tobacco products. At the time, both the Government and the Opposition said they had no plans to support such a measure. Of course, we now have standardised packaging of tobacco products. I hope we can get standardised packaging of vaping products as well.

The Government recently issued a call for evidence on the best approaches for tackling youth vaping. I look forward to seeing the response. First and foremost, the Government should make disposable vapes, which are the worst things for the economy, much less affordable, by adding a £5 excise tax. That would also make the distribution of those products subject to much more stringent controls, making it easier to prevent illicit and underage sales. It would in particular ban the issuing of free samples to young people.

Will the Minister tell us when the Government’s response to the call for evidence on youth vaping will be published, and whether it will include specific enhanced regulation to address loopholes in the law? I welcome the Minister’s commitment to adapting the tobacco trace and trace system, to strengthen enforcement and to target the illicit market. I particularly welcome the Minister’s commitment to exploring how to share information with local partners about who is registered on the track and trace system, which is critical.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a critical role for trading standards in enforcing measures against illegal vapes, counterfeit tobacco and underage sales? We could greatly secure the environment for the consumer by trading standards enforcing the laws.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My hon. Friend must have read the next part of my speech. At present, trading standards officers have one arm tied behind their back in the fight against illicit tobacco, due to a lack of options for identifying and cracking down on retailers who repeatedly flout tobacco regulation. We know that retailers who sell illicit tobacco products are much more likely to sell tobacco to children, undermining tobacco-control regulations. They also seek to hook children on the addictive product that kills more than half of long-term users, by giving or selling them vapes in the first place.

Retailers are required to have an economic operator ID before they can trade in tobacco, under the current tobacco tracking and tracing regulations. Through adaptation of that system, local enforcement will easily be able to identify retailers who are breaking the law, and hold them accountable. That is the approach that I recommend in my ten-minute rule Bill, which would introduce a retail licensing system, similar to the one that exists for alcohol. Retail licensing for tobacco was recommended in Dr Khan’s independent review.

The Minister will be pleased to know that that approach has the support of the public and retailers. Survey evidence from ASH, published last autumn, found that more than eight in 10 small tobacco retailers support the introduction of a tobacco licence, backed by mandatory age verification. Will the Minister commit to publishing further detail on his plans to strengthen the track and trace system, before Second Reading of my ten-minute rule Bill on retail licensing in November?

It is undeniable that big tobacco and those representing its interests never cease in their attempts to undermine public policy, not just on tobacco but on vaping. Only last weekend, The Observer revealed that lobbyists connected to big tobacco were funding Facebook campaigns opposing new vaping regulations. Regulations, I think we can all agree, are desperately needed to protect children. It was exceptionally well timed, therefore, that yesterday the Department of Health and Social Care published guidance for all parts of Government on our legal obligations to protect public policy from the commercial and vested interests of the industry—guidance that I very warmly welcome. The Department of Health and Social Care, as custodian of the World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control, has been staunch in its support for that treaty and has upheld our legal obligation to strictly limit any engagement with the industry solely to that required for effective regulation of the industry. Will the Minister put it on the record that Government—the Executive, legislature and judiciary—are required to limit interactions not just with tobacco manufacturers but with any organisations or individuals with affiliations to the tobacco industry, including lobbyists or industry trade bodies, such as the UK Vaping Industry Association, which lists big tobacco among its members?

Mr Sharma, it is good to see you in the Chair; thank you for stepping in. When the Government initially announced their Smokefree 2030 ambition, it was described as “extremely challenging”. Four years on, not only has the challenge increased but the need for action has become more urgent. Cancer Research UK estimates that we will miss achieving the ambition by nine years; it will be even longer for the most disadvantaged in society. I am sure that the Minister agrees that that is not acceptable, so I wish to remind him of comments that he made in his previous role as a Minister for levelling up. He said that

“ultimately on public health and on prevention, we need to think extremely radically and really floor it, because otherwise the NHS will just be under humongous pressure for the rest of our lifetimes because of an ageing population.”

The proposals brought forward to date have been radical, but are not yet sufficient. There is nothing on key measures recommended by the APPG and by Dr Khan in last year’s review, which included reinstating funding that was cut for behaviour change campaigns, raising the age of sale, retail licensing, and tougher regulations for tobacco as well as vaping. I hope that when the Minister replies to this debate, he can assure the Chamber that the major conditions strategy will be published this year and will contain further measures—and funding—sufficiently radical to achieve our ambition for a smoke-free future, not just in England but throughout the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other colleagues on this important matter, and thank you, Mr Sharma, for allowing this important debate to take place today.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

Order. I have two announcements to make before I call the next speaker. This debate will still finish at 11 am. I intend to start calling Opposition Front Benchers at 10.30 am. Rather than setting a time limit now, I make this request of all Members: try to be brief, so that everybody can contribute. I hope that, in that way, we can deal with the situation. I call Mary Kelly Foy.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham 9:58, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, and to follow my co-sponsor of this debate, Bob Blackman. He is also the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, of which I am a vice-chair. I declare that interest.

As we have heard, the measures announced by the Minister in April were a step in the right direction. However, they fell very short of the comprehensive strategy outlined by the APPG and the Khan review, and it has taken far too long—almost four years—for the Government to get going on this. In the meantime, tobacco continues to kill an estimated one person every five minutes in Britain. The deaths are disproportionately concentrated in regions such as the north-east—regions that have some of the highest rates of poverty and, in turn, the highest rates of smoking in England. In the north-east, nearly 13,000 people died prematurely from smoking between 2017 and 2019. This has an economic cost for our communities of over £100 million in healthcare costs and £64 million in social care costs. All the while, tobacco companies make record profits, leaving the taxpayer and families to pick up the pieces.

We are fortunate in the north-east to have a highly effective regional tobacco control programme—Fresh—funded by all the local authorities in the region and the local integrated care board, and it has proven successful over the years. Just yesterday, it launched a new behavioural change campaign called “Smoking Survivors”, which features two women from the north-east who have quit smoking and survived cancer. However, national funding for behavioural change campaigns such as that fell by around 90% between 2008 and 2018. Although regional activity is vital, we need strong leadership from the Government if we are to see every region be smoke free by 2030.

Like the hon. Member for Harrow East, I welcome the Minister’s recent announcement on tackling youth vaping, but why did it take so long for the Government to act? When the Health and Care Act 2022 was going through Parliament in 2021, I tabled amendments that would have given the Government powers to prohibit child-friendly branding on e-cigarette packaging and to ban the free distribution of vapes to under-18s, which, as we know, has strong cross-party support. To my amazement, not only did the Government fail to adopt my amendments, but they voted them down.

As the Minister will remember, one of Dr Khan’s must-do recommendations was raising the age of sale for tobacco beyond 18, so I was disappointed not to see that included in the April announcement. The all-party group has already urged the Government to launch a public consultation on raising the age of sale, and I urge them to do that too.

I will end with a few questions for the Minister, which probably echo what the hon. Member for Harrow East asked. Will the Minister commit to consulting on a “polluter pays” levy to raise funding for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy?

Will the Government consider measures to address the affordability, accessibility, appeal and advertising of vapes, which were recommended by ASH in its response to the Government’s call for evidence on youth vaping? Once again, I highlight the fact that big tobacco companies rigorously lobby against vaping regulations, so I would like the Minister to take note of that.

Will the Minister confirm that a consultation on raising the age of sale will be considered? Finally, will he reassure the House that a comprehensive strategy to address smoking and vaping will be delivered—if not through the tobacco control plan, as promised by his predecessors, then in the forthcoming major conditions strategy?

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

I urge Members to stick to about five minutes.

Photo of Damien Moore Damien Moore Conservative, Southport 10:03, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate Mary Kelly Foy and my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on securing this important debate. The Department of Health and Social Care’s announcement in response to the Khan smoking review of last year was a positive step to ensure the UK remains a world leader on harm reduction and has a strong chance of reaching the Government’s ambitious Smokefree 2030 target. That said, I worry there is a serious risk that the target will be missed, with an estimated 13.3% of adults in the UK still smoking. The Department’s announcement that a reduction in smoking would also reduce the number of hospital admissions is clearly correct. It would help the Government’s priority of reducing NHS waiting lists.

The Government are taking a harm reduction approach to tackling smoking. As the Minister said, the person who quits today is the person who is not in a hospital bed tomorrow. I therefore welcome the Government’s highly pragmatic approach to vapes, but only by embracing all smoking alternatives—not just vaping, but gum, patches and NHS stop smoking services—can the UK give itself the best chance of hitting its Smokefree 2030 target, with the health benefits that would result from that.

There are 3.3 million vapers in the UK, but vaping does not meet the needs of all smokers looking to stop. Furthermore, because it does not closely mimic smoking, 35% of current vapers use vapes and cigarettes alongside one another, as confirmed by Action on Smoking and Health. Other products, such as “heat not burn”, heat tobacco rather than burning it, and therefore produce substantially fewer harmful and potentially harmful chemicals than cigarettes. They also mimic cigarettes much more closely than vapes, which means that smokers who switch to them are less likely to continue smoking. Importantly, studies have shown that they are less attractive than vapes to younger people who have never smoked.

That said, there are rightly concerns about youth uptake of vaping. Vapes are designed for adult smokers who are trying to quit, not for teenagers to use as a gateway to other nicotine products. There is clearly a balance to be struck between ensuring that vapes do not end up in the hands of young people and not hindering the access of adult smokers to these reduced-risk alternatives.

Tt international forums, the UK should stand up for this positive harm-reduction approach to tackling smoking. Now that it has left the EU, it can speak as a world leader on harm reduction, alongside nations such as Sweden and Japan, to demonstrate the powerful role that support for less harmful alternatives to cigarettes can play in reducing smoking prevalence.

In 2018, when I sat on the Science and Technology Committee, we called for independent research to be commissioned on the relative risks of “heat not burn” tobacco products. The research would fill the gap in knowledge and understanding of the impact of these products and the relative harms compared to other products, such as e-cigarettes, and would ensure that evidence-based policymaking was not solely reliant on the industry for scientific evidence. I stood—and indeed continue to stand—firmly by that call from the Select Committee for proper scientific research to be done. It is only when we have all the facts that we can make the most effective decisions to help us stop smoking by 2030, with all the health benefits that that entails and all the lives it will save.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 10:06, 20 June 2023

I thank Bob Blackman and my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy for securing this important debate. For seven years, I was the cabinet member on Birmingham City Council overseeing public health. Because of that, I have seen the long-term health impacts of smoking on communities across both Birmingham and the UK.

It is shocking that one of the biggest causes of death in the UK—causing around 150 cases of cancer per day—is entirely preventable. Around 6.6 million adults currently smoke in the UK. In Birmingham and Solihull, more than 10,000 people are admitted to hospital per year as a result of smoking. As a district nurse, I saw the effects that smoking can have on people both with and without existing health conditions and how difficult it can be to quit. I met patients with COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—who were using oxygen to help them to breath and who would still ask to be wheeled outside to smoke because they were so addicted to smoking.

We have a very strong pro-smoking lobby in the UK. Action on Smoking and Health reported that the tobacco industry works to undermine public health measures and is increasing its marketing plans, including to market to young people and to oppose regulation. In the face of that, young people in my constituency do not stand a chance. That is why we truly need strategies to prevent our young people from starting smoking in the first place.

I recognise that encouraging the use of e-cigarettes is a vital part of the Government’s strategy. However, it is important that we do not forget about the risk associated with them. Not enough research has been done on vaping for us to know the long-term effects, especially during pregnancy, and the impact on the lives of children who vape, which are just starting to show through. Last year, 40 children in England were admitted to hospital due to vaping-related disorders, with 15 children under 10 admitted due to the effects of vaping. We are relying on best estimates to understand the impacts of vaping. It is vital that the Government commit to proper research and enforcement, including clamping down on the sale of e-cigarettes containing harmful levels of nicotine.

The ambition is for England to be smoke free by 2030. It is a welcome target, and the Government themselves have recognised that it will need bold action. The Khan review, which was published a year ago, found that, without further action, England will miss the smoke-free target by at least seven years, and the poorest areas, such as my communities in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, will not meet it until 2044. We are still to see the Government’s new tobacco control plan more than a year later.

It is ridiculous that, since the Smokefree 2030 target was published—only three years ago—the Secretary of State has changed four times. If we are serious about stopping smoking and improving outcomes for all, we need an NHS fit for the future, with the capacity to deliver long-term, ambitious targets for public health. We need a serious Government, committed to backing our health service. Only Labour can deliver on those promises.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:11, 20 June 2023

I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing this important debate. I am always pleased to come along and make a contribution.

Although Northern Ireland does not yet have a smoke-free target, I strongly support the Smokefree 2030 ambition. I welcomed the Minister’s announcement in April, which set out a number of bold and innovative measures. Putting in place the measures needed to make England smoke free by 2030 will enhance efforts to tackle smoking across the whole United Kingdom. Although Northern Ireland and the other devolved nations hold responsibility for their own health policies, the Government in Westminster maintain responsibility for UK-wide policies, which will impact progress in the devolved nations. I know that the Minister is always keen to respond in a positive way; perhaps he could confirm that discussions have taken place and tell us their outcome.

I particularly welcome the commitment to hold a consultation on pack inserts. All of us have probably called for that—I know I have—and I am pleased to see that it has been adopted by the Government. Cigarette pack inserts providing health information have been required in Canada since 2000, and there is substantial evidence that they are effective. Research carried out in the UK supports their use here too. I hope that the Minister will confirm when the consultation will open—that is my first question.

As the Minister knows, healthcare services are under severe pressure across the United Kingdom. Tackling smoking, which is a leading preventable cause of death and disease, killing 2,300 people in Northern Ireland each year, is vital if we are to ease that pressure. In Northern Ireland, cases of lung cancer among men are projected to increase by 74% by 2035. That is massive, but the figures are even more massive for women, for whom cases are projected to increase by 91%. Smoking is responsible for over seven in 10 cases of lung cancer. Therefore, real, targeted action needs to be taken. I am keen to get the Minister’s thoughts on that.

In 2016-17, the estimated hospital costs for treating smoking-related diseases in Northern Ireland were £172 million. If we do not take urgent action now to reduce smoking rates, our healthcare service will continue to face huge pressure. Analysis by Cancer Research UK shows that current rates of decline in Northern Ireland will not achieve the smoke-free ambition of smoking rates of 5% or less until the late 2040s, which is a decade after England. That means that our deprived populations will not be smoke-free until 2050. We need to step up efforts to achieve a smoke-free future at both the devolved level and the UK level.

I was interested to see the Minister’s announcement on how the Government intend to crack down on illicit tobacco and vaping products. We can give some credit to the Government, and to the Minister in particular, for the action they have put forward. The sale of illicit tobacco undermines efforts to reduce smoking rates. It is concentrated among poorer smokers and disadvantaged communities, contributing to higher rates of smoking. Retailers who sell illicit tobacco are much more likely to be happy to sell to children, so the illicit market also poses a particular risk to children’s health. Addressing the issue requires tackling not just the supply but the demand for illicit tobacco in communities where smoking is endemic.

The UK has made great strides in reducing the trade of illicit tobacco in the last two decades, with a comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy, which has more than halved the market share of illicit cigarettes, from 22% in 2000-01 to 9% in 2021. The Government need to be thanked and congratulated for that. It is a very positive and clear strategy, and it is working, but we need perhaps to sharpen it up a wee bit. There is still more to be done.

The announcement that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Border Force will publish an updated strategy to tackle illicit tobacco is welcome. Northern Ireland, with its land border with the EU, is particularly geographically vulnerable to illicit trade run by criminal gangs, and we have a proliferation of paramilitary groups on both sides using the illicit tobacco sector to create moneys for their criminal uses. Border Force and HMRC have a key role to play in tackling smuggled tobacco, especially in our most disadvantaged communities, where smoking rates are highest. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but perhaps he could give us some idea about how that co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Garda Síochána and the mainland police here is working.

I also welcome the Minister’s commitment to adapting the tobacco track and trace system to strengthen enforcement and target the illicit market. In particular, the Minister’s commitment to explore how to share with local partners information about who is registered on the track and trace system is critical. Will he confirm whether sharing information with local partners from the track and trace system overseen by HMRC will be part of the new strategy? It is important that it is. The Minister is nodding, so I expect that the answer is yes, which would be good news. Will he also tell us whether the new illicit tobacco strategy will be launched before the summer recess? As MPs, we always like timescales—I know I do, so perhaps he could respond positively to that question.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:16, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Sharma. I commend Bob Blackman and my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy for securing today’s debate.

Smoking is not a lifestyle choice; it is a lethal addiction that the vast majority of smokers enter into before they reach adulthood. It is also an addiction that is increasingly concentrated among the most disadvantaged in society. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that over a third of smokers are now among the poorest 20% of the population. Lest we forget, that concentration of disadvantage is fuelled by the tobacco industry, the ability of which to maximise its profits by selling lethal and addictive products must be strictly regulated if we are to achieve our Smokefree 2030 ambition and protect the nation’s health.

My constituency, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, is in the north-east, which is the most disadvantaged region in the country, as well as having the lowest regional life expectancy and among the highest smoking rates. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say that. In 2021, 22,000 adults in Gateshead smoked, which cost the NHS £7 million and local authority social care £5.4 million, as well as costing £66 million in lost productivity. Those costs are due entirely to smoking and are entirely preventable.

Tobacco addiction has been levelling down communities across the country for decades and will go on doing so until the Government start to take action to deliver on their Smokefree 2030 ambition for all in society. On average, smokers spend around £2,500 per year on smoking. That is money they can ill afford. The total spend in Gateshead is £55 million—an eye-watering amount that goes up in smoke, with no benefit to the local community. Ending smoking will significantly increase disposable income in poorer communities such as mine, help grow the local economy, and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Members have spoken about the need for investment in stop smoking services, which is indeed vital. The hon. Member for Harrow East spoke passionately at a debate in March about the Smokefree 2030 ambition and the role of support for smokers in achieving that goal. I wholeheartedly agree with him: smokers need to be motivated and supported to quit. But, as we have heard, the public health budget that funds local authority stop smoking services has been cut by 45% in real terms since 2015. That funding desperately needs to be reinstated if smokers are to get the support they need and deserve. The Government have so far failed to make the necessary funding available from the public purse. That is why I support a levy on tobacco manufacturers to pay for measures such as the stop smoking services needed to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition. Will the Minister fulfil the prevention Green Paper commitment to consider a “polluter pays” approach to funding tobacco control? That funding is sorely needed if we are to achieve our ambition of a Smokefree 2030.

Another area I want to look at is mental health. More investment is desperately needed to tackle smoking among those with mental health conditions as smoking is the leading cause of significantly reduced life expectancy among people with a mental health condition. Depending on the condition, life expectancy can be reduced by between seven to 25 years and as many as one in three smokers has a diagnosable mental health condition. Smoking is an indirect cause of poor mental health across the whole population through its impacts on physical health, income and employment. It is also a direct cause because it increases the risk of some mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia. Those factors form a cycle whereby smokers are at greater risk of poor mental health and those with poor mental health are at greater risk of becoming heavily addicted to smoking and struggling to stop, further damaging their mental health. Investment is desperately needed to break that cycle. I could say much more on the issue. It is vital that we look at the provisions in the NHS long-term plan. They, on their own, will not reach the much larger group of smokers who need assistance to quit.

The improving access to psychological therapies programme has around 1,690,000 referrals a year and supports people with conditions such as depression and anxiety. The smoking status of clients of IAPT services is not routinely monitored. However, given the high rates of smoking among people with common mental health conditions, it is likely that around one in four clients smokes, which is equivalent to 504,000 smokers a year taking part in the IAPT programme. Pilot projects have shown that IAPT therapists are willing and able to deliver support to quit and that clients value the offer, so extending IAPT to include smoking cessation treatment would be highly cost-effective as it piggybacks on an existing service. But that still requires investment.

Finally, I want to share concerns that others have raised about the increase in youth vaping. Smokers with mental health conditions have been found particularly to benefit from access to e-cigarettes given their high levels of addiction and their barriers to quitting. It is essential that we ensure that adult smokers continue to have that help as a safer alternative to smoking and a means of quitting, but we must drive down the increasing rates of vaping in our children.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech. There is no doubt that vaping saves lives when smokers convert to vaping. Although we must do everything we can to stop children from accessing vapes and dissuade non-smokers from taking up vaping, does she agree that the last thing we want is to do anything at all that prevents or dissuades smokers from switching to vaping or other alternatives such as heat-not-burn products?

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Of course, it is right that we do everything we can to help adults stop smoking, but we also want to prevent young people from accessing vaping. We do not know the long-term impact, and it is important that we do not get non-smokers taking up smoking because of some attractive bubblegum or strawberry-flavoured vape. There are also environmental issues with disposable vapes, which are often used. Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we must tackle the other side of the issue as well.

Fresh, the tobacco control programme in the north-east, and Action on Smoking and Health have submitted strong, evidence-based proposals for further regulation of vaping to the consultation, which has just closed. The Government must act now, without delay, to implement their proposals. My final question to the Minister is this: will he commit to publishing concrete proposals for regulation to tackle youth vaping before the summer recess?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip 10:24, 20 June 2023

I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing the debate. I must confess to some trepidation about taking part, because it is on an England-only topic: health is devolved, as Jim Shannon pointed out. However, smoking is of specific and acute importance to young people, and many young people from Arfon work, live, love and play in England, so it has relevance.

I am a former smoker. I smoked until my 30s, when a friend pointed out the folly of rolling dried leaves up in paper and setting fire to them in my mouth—that eventually persuaded me. More relevantly, as long ago as 2005 I was a supporter of the Smoking in Public Places (Wales) Bill, a private Member’s Bill promoted by Julie Morgan, the then Labour MP for Cardiff North, that would have devolved power to the Welsh Assembly to ban smoking in public places. Unfortunately, the then UK Labour Government did not provide time for that Bill, and by the time an England and Wales Bill had become law, more people employed in bars, hotels and restaurants in Wales had contracted fatal smoking-related diseases. I am not being too dramatic about this: the lack of devolution in that instance actually cost lives.

In Wales, as in England, smoking is the largest single cause of preventable and premature death. Poverty is an issue. Wales is a poor country: when we were in the European Union, parts of Wales qualified for regional aid on the same basis as the most poverty-stricken parts of the former Soviet bloc in eastern Europe. That is how bad it was and, tragically, that is how bad it remains.

Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Smoking hits us hard in Wales: our smoking rates are some of the highest among vulnerable populations. The Welsh Government’s tobacco control plan, published in July 2022, sets a target for Wales to become smoke free by 2030. Meanwhile, England’s tobacco control plan has expired, and the promised updates have been delayed time and again.

As I said, this is an England-only matter because health is devolved. Health policy has diverged between Wales and England, not least in that the wellbeing approach adopted in Wales is markedly different from the illness policy introduced elsewhere. Reducing smoking is an urgent element of that wellbeing approach. However, many of the key policy interventions in Wales that require legislation are reserved and must be voted through in this Parliament. The Welsh Government do not have the power to put warnings on individual cigarettes, put inserts in tobacco packs or strengthen the regulation of e-cigarettes—by the way, if they did, I suspect that those warnings would be in both our languages, but that is a matter for another day. The Welsh Government have even been told that they do not have the power to raise the age of sale for tobacco to 21.

Those were all key measures that were recommended in the Khan review and are supported by the people of Wales, but they cannot be taken forward because of a lack of devolution and powers. By being so slow, the UK Government are undermining the ability of the Welsh Government to achieve their Smokefree 2030 ambition. That ambition is supported by seven out of 10 people in Wales, a figure that rises to eight out of 10 among those who voted for my party, Plaid Cymru, at the last election.

The “polluter pays” levy is vital for Wales, as it is for England. I was pleased to put my name, on behalf of Plaid, to the amendments to the Health and Care Bill that Mary Kelly Foy tabled on Report, and particularly to the amendment that called for a consultation on a levy on tobacco manufacturers to pay for measures needed to deliver a smoke-free future. If the Government had adopted that amendment, we would now be much closer to achieving the target. A UK-wide levy would have raised as much as £700 million per year, which would have been sufficient to fund the programme both in England and Wales.

There are many other regulations that would benefit Wales but that need action from Westminster. Because of the time available, let me just say that those measures include: warnings on cigarettes; a ban on all tobacco flavours; prohibition of free distribution of vapes to children; a ban on sweet names, bright colours and cartoon characters on vapes, which are all so appealing to children; and a requirement that tobacco packs have inserts. These are all measures that the Government have refused to adopt in the past and are still slow to adopt today. Announcements on pack inserts and free vape distribution are urgent, so that both Parliaments have clarity. Will the Minister confirm the dates for the launch of the consultation on the pack insert regulations that was announced in April, and at the very least to reassure us that it will take place before the summer recess?

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

I hope that the Front Benchers and the Minister will spare about a minute or two for Bob Blackman to wind up at the end of the debate.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 10:30, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Sharma, and I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing today’s debate. This is absolutely vital issue that needs to get far more attention than it has had.

It is good to hear the broad cross-party consensus in the debate. Of course, as has already been mentioned by a number of speakers, health is a devolved matter. However, smoking is a significant public health issue in Scotland and a leading cause of preventable ill health, premature death and disability.

In 2013, the Scottish Government set a target that children born that year would reach adulthood in a smoke-free Scotland; our target for that is 2034, a few years after the English target date. A recent YouGov poll for ASH found that that 2034 target is supported by three quarters of adults in Scotland, with even more support coming from the supporters of my party—it was supported by eight out of 10 of them at the last election. It is perhaps worth remembering that the ban on smoking in public places came into force in Scotland in the spring of 2006, with the rest of the UK following soon afterwards.

As a footnote, the ban in Scotland came in on my birthday, which, as a non-smoker, I thought was a wonderful thing. I thoroughly enjoyed nights out a lot more afterwards. However, a much more profound effect was felt by my friends who smoked. Almost all of them have either stopped smoking completely or very significantly reduced their consumption.

Research shows that the number of heart attacks in Scotland fell by 74% between 1990 and 2014. Reduction in the number of people smoking and the increased uptake of cholesterol testing and statin drugs were cited as major contributory factors for that fall. That is very positive and it backs up the evidence I have seen with my own eyes among my friends and family connections. Since 2013, smoking prevalence has fallen significantly, from 22% to 14% now, but much remains to be done.

Smoking remains the leading cause of death in Scotland. Indeed, in 2021 the Scottish health survey set out that smoking was the cause of about one in five deaths and it is estimated that it also causes around 100,000 hospital admissions a year. The Scottish Government estimate that smoking costs NHS Scotland at least £300 million and the true figure could be upwards of £500 million, with additional costs, such as lost productivity, environmental and fire costs, calculated by Landman Economics at another £500 million. That is money literally going up in smoke for public services, as well as for smokers, at a time when the cost of living crisis is hitting hard everywhere.

We should not forget that the average smoker in Scotland—I do not know what the equivalent figures are for England, Wales or Northern Ireland—consumes around 12 cigarettes a day, which means they spend £1,875 a year on smoking. It remains pretty big business. Of course, smoking prevalence is highest in the areas that are most deprived, which further compounds health inequalities and poverty issues.

As Scotland’s five-year tobacco control plan is set to be renewed later this year, I hope for an ambitious set of policies that can help us to achieve our goal of a smoke-free 2034. A range of policies that aim to make smoking less visible, such as prohibiting smoking in public playgrounds, are being considered. However, there is only so much that can be done by Holyrood.

The Government’s Green Paper on prevention commits to considering options for raising revenue to fund evidence-based tobacco control, including a “polluter pays” approach, using mechanisms set out in the Health Act 2006. That would be a public health fund rather than a tax, modelled on the pharmaceutical pricing scheme that is organised and collected by the Department of Health and Social Care on behalf of England and the devolved nations.

Three quarters of adults in Great Britain support making the tobacco industry pay a levy or licence fee to Government for measures to help smokers quit and to prevent young people from taking up smoking. Tobacco must be the only product that kills when it is used as intended. I had a smile moment when Hywel Williams mentioned why he stopped. I always think of the Bob Newhart comedy sketch, for those of a certain generation, about introducing tobacco to the western world. If it had been found nowadays, no one would use it. That makes me wonder why we continue.

The tobacco industry continues to make vast profits: on average, 50% of operating profits, compared with only 10% on average for UK manufacturing. Big tobacco can—and should be made to—pay. A “polluter pays” levy would be not a tax but a public health fund, raising a fixed sum to pay for recurring costs of tobacco control. Capping profits at 10% would prevent tobacco manufacturers from passing on the cost to smokers and ensure that tobacco taxes were not undermined.

The current pharmaceutical scheme, set out in the Health Act 2006, is administered by the DHSC, with the devolved Administrations opting in. A tobacco control fund could easily be operated on the same basis. Funding for evidence-based tobacco control policies, such as public education campaigns, smoking cessation services and enforcement, has declined since 2010. The levy could restore funding for those vital activities, and provide additional resource for the further activity needed to reach a smoke-free generation throughout the UK’s nations. Will the Minister listen to the public and commit to consulting on a “polluter pays” levy to provide the funding needed to deliver Smokefree 2030 through the rest of the UK, and to assist Scotland with its 2034 target?

No debate on smoking could be complete without consideration of vaping, which has come up several times today. For many, vapes are a helpful route out of smoking and towards less harm. They are potentially a useful aid for many adult smokers, which has been proven by evidence from Cancer Research UK. However, as we have heard today, understandable concerns about youth vaping are growing, particularly about the cheap, disposable vapes most widely used by children. There have been many calls throughout Scotland to ban disposable vapes, and that movement is gaining traction, with 21 of the 32 councils in Scotland now backing a national ban on those products. It is true that single-use e-cigarettes are often discarded irresponsibly and, because of their composition, do not break down in the environment. Even if users attempt to recycle them, as is theoretically possible, they will find that the infrastructure required to do so does not exist in many places.

I am particularly troubled by the rise in youth vaping, about which several hon. Members have already expressed concern. Those products should never have been intended for children or for non-smokers, yet recent surveys have found an increase in experimental use among 11- to 17-year-olds. The cynic in me thinks that big tobacco may have designed those products to have child appeal, and ensure a future generation of consumers. Disposable vapes are brightly coloured, available in flavours attractive to children, and are in a price range that is accessible to those with limited funds. They should probably be banned but, at the very least, an excise tax on disposables should be introduced. That would put the price up and make them far less affordable to children, thereby driving down the use of these environmentally damaging products.

In conclusion, while the rate of smoking continues to fall in Scotland, it remains too high to be confident about meeting our targets of reducing it by 2034. We must all come together to eliminate smoking and stop the spread of nicotine addiction. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and continued dedication to trying to eliminate the UK’s leading cause of preventable death. I urge Ministers to commit to implementing a “polluter pays” levy to help fund much-needed tobacco control action not just in England but throughout the devolved nations.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 10:39, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. At 9.30 am, it would have been a pleasure to see anybody in the Chair. I place on the record my thanks to you and Mr Evans for stepping into the vacancy. I congratulate Bob Blackman and my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy on securing this important debate and on their tireless work on this issue. When we create a smoke-free England—the consensus here today is for a smoke-free Britain—it will be in no small part thanks to their tremendous efforts and campaigning.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) and for Blaydon (Liz Twist), and the hon. Members for Southport (Damien Moore), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Arfon (Hywel Williams), as well as Martyn Day, who leads for the Scottish National party on health issues. There is consensus across the Chamber on where we need to go.

In 2019, the Government committed themselves to a Smokefree 2030. As Members across the House will be aware, that means a smoking prevalence of around 5% of the population. The commitment was welcomed across the House, and for good reason: despite significant progress in driving down smoking rates over the past 40 years, smoking, as we have heard today, is still the biggest cause of cancer and death in the United Kingdom. Smoking causes around 150 cancer cases every day, and smoking tobacco kills one person every five minutes.

Those deaths are made all the more tragic by the fact that they are avoidable. By creating a smoke-free England, we would empower people to live happier, longer and healthier lives, and substantially reduce pressure on our NHS, as Cancer Research UK estimates that up to 75,000 GP appointments could be freed up each year if we put an end to smoking. That would all come alongside substantial economic benefits, as smoking costs the public finances an estimated £20.6 billion. The argument for a smoke-free future is overwhelming. We just need to get there.

In a recent response to a written question I tabled, the Minister stated that his Department is “confident” that it is

“on course to achieve…Smokefree 2030,” but Cancer Research UK estimates that the Government are, as we heard from the hon. Member for Harrow East, on track to miss their Smokefree 2030 target by around nine years. Smoking cessation services have faced cuts of 45% since 2015-16, and in some of the most deprived areas of England, smoking rates are increasing, not decreasing.

That increase is incredibly concerning, and it risks exacerbating health inequalities that are already widening, in some cases at an alarming rate. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister explained why his Department is so confident that the 2030 target will be met, and where the Government’s modelling is, as well as why it differs from that of Cancer Research UK.

The announcements the Minister made in April were undoubtedly welcome, but they do not seem to me to be ambitious enough or wide-ranging enough to get us back on track. If that is the case, and if we are to miss the 2030 target, the Department of Health and Social Care needs to fess up and say how it plans to keep its pledge. The truth is that the foot has been taken off the pedal with regard to Smokefree 2030. The Government wasted precious time, and unless they act swiftly the target will be beyond reach. I do not want that. I want the Minister to succeed in achieving the target, and I do not think anybody in the Chamber wants us to miss it.

We need action, so I will press the Minister on a few key points. First, will he confirm whether the Government plan to announce any further measures to tackle smoking prevalence, or whether the April announcement is intended to replace the tobacco control plan and the health disparities White Paper?

Secondly, the April announcement referred to an updated strategy to tackle illicit sales and imports of tobacco due to be released at some point this year. There is a backlog of reports to be published sometime this year. We would like this one to be at the front of the queue, not the back. Will the Minister update Members on where the work has got to and when we can expect publication of the strategy?

Thirdly, the Minister will no doubt be aware that Cancer Research UK and ASH have made several recommendations to the Government, most notably on an increase in the age of sale and a “polluter pays” tobacco levy. I would be interested to hear what recent assessment he has made of those proposals and whether they will inform his Department’s work moving forward.

Finally, cross-Government guidance on protecting public policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry was published yesterday. That is a step in the right direction, but will the Minister set out how the guidance will be disseminated to all branches of Government, given that it is cross-departmental?

The last Labour Government had a proud history of taking bold action to drive down smoking prevalence. We implemented the indoor smoking ban and took action to tackle cigarette advertising, and we are still feeling the benefits of those policies to this day. We want to continue that legacy and, indeed, the measures that were brought in more recently. That is why creating a smoke-free England within a smoke-free United Kingdom will be an absolute priority for the next Labour Government.

Our recent health mission launch set out the first steps of our road map to a smoke-free Britain. They include making all hospital trusts integrate opt-out smoking cessation interventions into routine care and expecting every trust to have a named lead on smoking cessation, so that every single clinical consultation counts towards health improvement. We would legislate to require all tobacco companies to dispel the myth that smoking reduces stress and anxiety. We would also ban vapes from being advertised to children and instead work with councils and the NHS to ensure that vapes are being used to stop smoking—full stop.

That is just the start of our road map to a smoke-free United Kingdom. The next Labour Government wholeheartedly believe in a smoke-free future, and we will not shy away from taking the bold steps that are needed to protect and improve public health. Until then, we are ready to work constructively and across party lines to build a smoke-free England within a smoke-free United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to get us back on track.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 10:47, 20 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and Mary Kelly Foy for securing this hugely important debate, and I thank other hon. Members for some excellent speeches. I was haunted by the image, conjured up by Mrs Hamilton, of people with COPD being wheeled outside to have one more gasp—I think we have all seen things like that. It has also been a pleasure to have contributions from all four parts of the UK. I shall try to respond to as many of the questions as possible.

In 2019, the Government produced a Green Paper on preventive health, in which we introduced our ambition for England to become smoke free by 2030. The ambition aims to shift the focus from treating ill health to preventing it in the first place. That means three things: first, discouraging children and adults from starting; secondly, helping smokers to quit; and thirdly, moving smokers to less harmful alternatives, such as vapes.

That is exactly what we have been doing over the last decade, and we have made significant progress. In recent years, the Government have introduced a range of legislation. We have introduced a UK-wide system of track and trace for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco to deter illicit sales, and from May 2024 that will cover all tobacco products, including shisha and cigars. We have continued to invest in stop smoking services, to help smokers get the right support for them. We continue to support the NHS, and last year alone provided £35 million to the NHS long-term plan commitments on smoking. Of course, we have also doubled duty on cigarettes and introduced a minimum excise tax on the cheapest cigarettes. Between them, those measures have helped to ensure that adult smoking prevalence in England is at its lowest level on record, 13%, and that youth smoking rates are the lowest on record—in 2021, 3.3% of 15-year-olds were regular smokers.

If we are to achieve our 5% ambition by 2030, however, we must move faster and be bolder. That is why on 11 April I introduced a package of new measures to help make more progress. To help smokers quit and move towards less harmful alternatives, we announced funding for a new national “swap to stop” scheme, which is the first of its kind in the world at a national level, to encourage 1 million smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes. We have begun to set up pathfinders, where local authorities can apply for starter kits, and the first shipments of vapes should begin going out later this summer. Local authorities across the country have expressed an interest, and we are also working with social landlords, homelessness charities, jobcentres, food banks and all the other groups that can help smokers to quit.

Despite its effectiveness as a tool to quit smoking, we must be aware of the risks that vaping poses to children and non-smokers, as various Members have pointed out. Over the past couple of years, we have seen an alarming rise in children vaping, and that is why we are taking action. We recently held a call for evidence to look at all the opportunities to reduce the number of children using vape products. It closed on 6 June and we are analysing the responses. We will publish our response within 12 weeks.

To stop children buying vapes, we need to get businesses to comply with our regulations and abide by the standards we have set. Of course, there are retailers out there selling vapes to children. That is why we recently created a new enforcement unit, which has three priorities: to tackle products imported and traded illicitly, to remove illegal products from the market that do not comply with our regulations, and to stop under-age sales to children. The unit will help remove illegal products from shelves, stop them coming through our borders and stop the sale of vapes to children.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I thank the Minister for articulating some of the risks around disposable vapes. I want to raise the risks they pose to animals. Just the other day, I was out walking my young dog Poppy and she came out of the undergrowth with a bright pink, melon-flavoured disposable vape in her mouth. I was able to get it out of her mouth, but, as a vet, I shudder to think what would have happened if she had chewed, crunched or swallowed it. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need more public awareness of the risks of vapes to health, the environment and even animals?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

That is a fascinating point, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be aware of the environmental and wider impacts of disposable vapes as we consider our next steps.

At the end of May, the Prime Minister announced several further measures to address youth vaping, including closing the loophole that allowed industry to give out free samples, increasing education and supporting dedicated school police liaison officers to keep illegal vapes out of schools. The measures support our wider approach to tackling youth vaping—not only preventing supply, but reducing demand. We also need to take action against businesses that break the rules and protect businesses that abide by them.

As well as non-compliant vapes, the illicit trade in tobacco undermines our work to protect public health. To answer the question from Hywel Williams, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will produce a new strategy to tackle illicit tobacco later this year. The strategy will outline joint efforts to catch and punish those involved in the illegal market and will build on the work we are already doing—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East alluded to it—to use the registration system as a way to improve enforcement.

Another big priority is to help pregnant women quit smoking. The rate of smoking in pregnancy remains stubbornly high; increasing the number of women who have a smoke-free pregnancy is crucial. To help expectant mothers, we have set up a financial incentive scheme, married with behavioural support. We aim to ensure that every pregnant mother who smokes across England gets help to quit. That work is based on a successful scheme in Greater Manchester, which has seen one of the biggest drops in smoking in pregnancy anywhere in the country.

To help more smokers quit, we need to be more innovative in how we connect with them, with the right type of support and messaging at the right time. To address the question asked by Liz Twist, we are going further on mental health and are ensuring that everyone who is in mental health treatment is signposted to stop smoking services, because there is a link between the two.

Another potential opportunity that hon. Members have raised is our plan to provide pack inserts in smoked tobacco packets, with positive messages and information to help more smokers quit. We intend to launch a UK-wide consultation shortly and are engaging with devolved Administrations on the matter. To answer the question raised by Jim Shannon, we are absolutely having those conversations.

We are committed to doing all we can to prevent people from starting smoking, to give smokers the support they need to quit, and to tackle the damage from the illicit market. I talked about some of the measures that I recently announced, but we will have more to say in the major conditions strategy in the not-too-distant future. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the hon. Member for City of Durham for securing this hugely important debate, and I look forward to making further progress towards our ambition for a smoke-free England and a smoke-free UK by 2030.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 10:54, 20 June 2023

I thank the Minister for his reply to the debate; the co-sponsor of the debate, Mary Kelly Foy, for her contribution; the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, Andrew Gwynne, for his support from across the Chamber; and our SNP colleague, Martyn Day, for his contribution. That we have had contributions from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England demonstrates the strong cross-party and cross-country support for making the United Kingdom smoke free. It is reassuring to hear people support the campaign with such enthusiasm.

I urge the Minister to consider carefully the questions and points that were put during the debate as we look forward to the action that is required to prevent people from starting to smoke and to encourage those who do smoke to quit. At the end of the day, this is about preventing avoidable deaths, and without that action, we will, unfortunately, see far too many people become ill and die prematurely.

While I have the floor, I will remind colleagues that on 19 July the all-party group will be hosting a reception to mark the fourth anniversary of the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition. We hope to hear from both the Minister and the Opposition spokesman, and I invite other colleagues to contribute to the session. I hope that we will be able to celebrate some new announcements from the Government, and that we will move forward to a smoke-free England in 2030 jointly and severally.

Finally, I thank you, Mr Sharma, and Mr Evans earlier, for stepping into the Chair. When we were all sitting here before the start, we were wondering whether the debate would take place at all, and had you not stepped in, it would have been very difficult to continue. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Smokefree 2030 target.