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Tobacco Control Plan

Volume 779: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will maintain their commitment to reducing smoking prevalence by publishing the latest Tobacco Control Plan for England without delay.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to reducing the harm caused by tobacco. We should be proud of the progress we have made in reducing smoking rates to a record low in this country. Our new tobacco control plan will build on this success. We are at an advanced stage of development of the plan, and we will be publishing it shortly.

My Lords, in the north-east of England smoking rates have fallen by about one-third in recent years, thanks in part to the very cost-effective mass media campaigns run by Fresh North East, the regional tobacco control office. Nationally, though, funding for such cost-effective campaigns has been reduced to less than one-quarter of pre-2010 levels. Can the Minister reassure the House that the funding for such cost-effective campaigns will be restored in the new tobacco control plan?

The noble Lord is quite right to highlight the effectiveness of mass media campaigns, and they will continue to be part of the new tobacco control plan. These include Public Health England’s Stoptober campaign and the health harm campaigns. The noble Lord gives us an example of an effective local campaign. I would also highlight the “16 Cancers” campaign in Yorkshire and Humber, which saw 740,000 smokers recalling the campaign and half of them taking a quit-related action.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in her first major speech as Prime Minister Theresa May committed the Government to fighting against the burning injustice that if you are born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. Bearing in mind that the difference in life expectancy is due to much higher rates of smoking among poorer people, will the Minister confirm that the target of reducing smoking among poorer people is absolutely at the forefront of the Government’s priorities?

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. There are big variations in levels of smoking, not just by socioeconomic group. I was disturbed to see that 37% of people with mental health conditions smoke, which is twice the overall prevalence. We also know that there is a huge variation in the number of women who smoke when pregnant. Targeting that variation, which has a number of dimensions, will be a core part of the strategy.

My Lords, there are 4,500 admissions to hospitals per day of people suffering from smoking-related diseases, and over 80,000 people per year die from such diseases. I know the Government have stated their plan for a policy that will reduce this harm. In that context, does the Minister think there might be lessons for us to learn from Finland’s plan to be tobacco-free?

I will certainly look at what they are doing in Finland. I was not aware of that, and it is a very ambitious goal. As a former smoker, I have to say I know the benefits both in health terms and in my pocket from reducing smoking. It is essential that we continue on the trajectory of reducing smoking that has been going for a long time. England is a world leader in this area, and we should recognise that. There has been huge success but clearly there is a lot more to do.

My Lords, in a recent survey the British Thoracic Society found that 72% of hospital patients who smoked were not asked if they wanted to quit. Will my noble friend assure me that the promised tobacco control plan will ensure that hospital patients who smoke will get the support they need to quit?

My noble friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has just started a campaign to encourage clinicians to help their patients to stop smoking, and making sure that that happens is clearly going to have benefits for the kind of major surgery that some of the people who are suffering severe effects of smoking will need to have.

My Lords, I noted that the Minister said the tobacco control plan will be published shortly and that it was in an advanced state of preparation. That was the same answer that his honourable friend the Public Health Minister gave in another place on 15 November 2016. The last tobacco control plan actually ran out at the end of 2015, so the new one is 14 months late. When exactly will it be published, and what has been the delay? Could the reason have been the decimation of the public health budget for local authorities, which has had a devastating effect, with reductions in preventive programmes at a local level?

I understand the frustration at the delay in publishing the plan. That does not mean that action has not been taking place: all the action set in train under the previous plan has been taking place throughout that period. As I said, the new plan will be published shortly. I look to my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who has given several master classes in the use of words to describe “shortly” in different ways. I will save a few of those for any future Questions and stick with “shortly” for now.

My Lords, the most recent report on child uptake of smoking by area shows some alarming figures of how many children start smoking every day. Given that it has been 100 days since the Government said that they would publish a new report, 67 children a day in London have taken up smoking, which makes 6,700 children in London alone. Do the Government not recognise the urgency of the plan’s publication, not just for the wider protection of our country but specifically for the most vulnerable of our children?

I agree with the noble Baroness. It is worth pointing out that 8% of 15 year-olds smoke, which is obviously eight percentage points too high, but it is down from 15% in 2009, so things are moving in the right direction, although we are absolutely not complacent about it. We have taken action that is reducing the number of children who smoke. In particular, we have banned displays in small shops, which normalise that activity for children, who might be with their parents and see them—marketing is very clever at catching the eye. That is happening. As I said, we will be publishing the plan shortly and it will have reducing smoking among children as a key part.

My Lords, given that the Royal College of Physicians has agreed that electronic cigarettes are the most effective way of getting smokers away from the habit of smoking tobacco, will the Minister ensure that when the much-desired great repeal Bill comes along, dealing with the adverse effect of the tobacco products directive, which prevents the transition to e-cigarettes, will be a high priority?

My noble friend is right to raise the issue of e-cigarettes. Something like half the 2.8 million current users of e-cigarettes are no longer smoking tobacco, so it has proved to be an extremely effective way of helping people to stop smoking. The UK has one of the most welcoming approaches to e-cigarettes in the world. We have a proactive approach of encouraging smokers to switch to vaping, and ensuring that that continues will be a part of the plan.

My Lords, I declare my interest. Will the Minister have regard to a comment from a grandson? I asked him whether he smoked. He said that most of his friends did, but he did not because he thought it was something old ladies do. He was very polite about it and said he did not want to be rude. Would it not be better to discourage young people by showing pictures of old ladies smoking, because none of the young people concerned want to look like old ladies?

I would not like to comment on the particular instance to which the noble Baroness refers, but she is quite right about role models. Part of the importance of ensuring that there is no longer smoking in public places is that we do not want young people to think that it is normal, as it were, to smoke but something, whether it is for old ladies or not, that should not be done.