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Tobacco Control Plan (England)

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Government are today publishing “Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England”.

The recently published “Healthy Lives, Healthy People” White Paper sets out the coalition Government’s determination to improve the health of the nation and to improve the health of the poorest, fastest. The White Paper recognises that reducing smoking rates represents a huge opportunity for public health, and makes commitments to publish a number of follow-on documents on how we will improve public health in specific areas. The tobacco control plan is the first of these.

Smoking remains one of our most significant public health challenges, and causes over 80,000 premature deaths in England each year. While rates of smoking have continued to decline over the past decades, 21% of adults in England still smoke. Smoking prevalence has fallen little since 2007 and we need renewed action to drive smoking rates down further.

Smoking has a devastating impact on health and well-being in our communities and we must keep up the momentum to reduce the health harms of tobacco use. Smoking contributes significantly to health inequalities and is the single biggest cause of inequalities in death rates between the richest and poorest in our communities.

Localism will be at the heart of the Government’s new radical approach to the delivery of public health services, with directors of public health, jointly appointed by local authorities, to be the strategic leaders for evidence-based public health. They will also lead action in their local communities to reduce health inequalities.

The tobacco control plan sets out how comprehensive tobacco control will be delivered over the next five years within the new public health system, and includes confirmation of our intentions for ending tobacco displays in shops and for further work to explore the plain packaging of tobacco products. The plan includes specific ambitions to reduce smoking prevalence by the end of 2015:

to 18.5% or less among adults (from a baseline of 21.2%);

to 12% or less among 15-year-olds (from a baseline of 15%); and

to 11% or less among pregnant mothers (from a baseline of 14%).

These ambitions represent faster reductions in smoking rates in these groups in the next five years than we have seen in the past five years.

The plan is built around the six strands of comprehensive tobacco control that are recognised internationally:

stopping the promotion of tobacco;

making tobacco less affordable;

effective regulation of tobacco products;

helping tobacco users to quit;

reducing exposure to second-hand smoke; and

effective communications for tobacco control.

Take-up of smoking by young people is a particular concern. Smoking is an addiction largely taken up in childhood and adolescence, and so it is crucial to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking in the first place. Nicotine is extremely addictive and young people can develop dependence on tobacco very rapidly. Each year in England an estimated 320,000 children under 16 first try smoking and the majority of adult smokers were smoking regularly before they turned 18 years of age. The plan recognises that we must do as much as we can to stop the recruitment of new young smokers.

We know that teenagers are susceptible to experimenting even when there is clear evidence of the dangers. We believe that eye-catching displays encourage young people to try smoking. They also undermine quit attempts by adults by tempting them to make impulse buys of tobacco.

This is why we are implementing legislation to end tobacco displays in shops. This will help to change perceptions of the social norms around smoking, especially by young people who are often the target of tobacco promotion.

While maintaining the expected public health gains, we will amend the display regulations to mitigate burdens on business. The growth review announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 2010 aims to reduce the regulatory burden on small and medium enterprises and micro businesses. In keeping with this approach, we will make the legislation more practical by:

giving retailers longer to prepare by delaying commencement until 6 April 2012 for large shops and 6 April 2015 for small shops;

increasing the size of temporary displays allowed when serving customers and re-stocking (from 0.75 square metres to 1.5 square metres); and

adding to the circumstances in which such displays can occur, for example, to carry out stock-taking and other activities necessary in running a business.

In this important area, I am interested in any measure with the potential to promote positive social norms around tobacco use and to diminish the impact of anything which promotes tobacco use, especially as this affects young people. We must continue to try new approaches, particularly those that may encourage behaviour change. We will, therefore, explore whether the introduction of plain packaging would bring additional public health benefits. The Government have an open mind on this and we want to hear what people think.

The tobacco control plan confirms a commitment to consult by the end of this year on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging. To do this we must review the evidence and draw up an impact assessment on the costs and additional public health benefits of policy options. We will, as well, explore the competition, trade and legal implications, and the likely impact on the illicit tobacco market of options around tobacco packaging. While similar measures are currently being considered actively by a number of Governments around the world, we must be sure about the impacts of policy options in the legal and trading circumstances of tobacco control in this country. Only after this work, and gathering views and evidence from public consultation, will we be in a position to know whether, or how, to proceed.

An academic review “The Impact of Smokefree Legislation in England: Evidence Review” has been published today.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has also published today the outcome of the consultation on the regulation of nicotine-containing products. The MHRA will co-ordinate a period of further scientific and market research to inform decisions about the regulation of nicotine-containing products.

All documents have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.