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Volume 804: debated on Monday 20 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to achieve their objective of making England smoke-free by 2030.

The Government are moving fast on several fronts to address the issue of smoking. That is why we have brought forward the prevention Green Paper and the tobacco control plan. Covid has offered an opportunity for more people to give up smoking, which is why we have instituted the Quit for Covid plan.

When will the Government publish their response to the prevention Green Paper consultation? Will today’s proposed guidance for smoke-free areas outside pubs and restaurants be agreed with his department, the DHSC? Will it be published before the House rises and will it be subject to parliamentary scrutiny?

My Lords, the government Green Paper published on 19 July is an extremely complex proposal. That is why we are considering it in great detail. It addresses the urgent need to tackle the disproportionate amount of smoking in deprived areas and among marginal communities. We are engaged with those communities to figure out what will work best. When we have those answers, we will publish our reply.

Does the Minister agree that reducing smoking in pregnancy is essential to achieving a smoke-free generation, yet rates of smoking in pregnancy have not declined significantly since 2015? Financial incentive schemes are being effectively used to support pregnant women in Greater Manchester to give up smoking, including younger and more disadvantaged women. What further steps do the Government intend to take to reduce rates of smoking in pregnancy and will this include the national rollout of an incentive scheme?

The noble Baroness points to the knottiest and most difficult of the challenges of giving up smoking. It is extremely sad that anyone should contemplate smoking during pregnancy, but this is one of the most durable and knottiest problems. I commend the use of creative and innovative schemes such as the one in Manchester to which the noble Baroness alludes, but more needs to be done, because prevention is better than cure.

My Lords, 1 million people have given up smoking to protect their health during lockdown and now 86% of people in the UK do not smoke. Will the Minister therefore support the amendment this afternoon, which would mean that if additional tables and chairs are put outside pubs and restaurants through pavement licences, all the new seating areas created will be smoke-free and more attractive to potential customers?

The noble Lord is right to commend those who have given up smoking during Covid. I pay tribute to anyone who has given up smoking. I struggled and found it immensely difficult, but I am glad that I did it. There is a government amendment to the Bill, which the Department of Health and Social Care supports, and we wish it every success.

Is my noble friend aware that I quit smoking many years ago and the credit for that is entirely down to the NHS and my GP? Can he tell me what is the estimate of the current annual cost to the NHS of treating smoking-related medical issues?

My Lords, I believe that the annual cost is £2.3 billion. It is far too much and we must do more to get it down. Huge progress has been made but we are still committed to a smoke-free 2030.

Do the Government recognise the particularly high addictive potential of tobacco among the young and that two-thirds of 100,000 youngsters who took up smoking last year went on to become long-term smokers? Without banning passive smoking in open areas, all the public health gains to date will be lost. There is strong evidence that smoking bans have been most effective in improving health.

My Lords, I completely recognise the power of the smoking bans, as well as the threat of young people taking up smoking and sticking with the habit for a long time. We are on track to meet our national ambition of reducing under-15 smoking from 5.3% in 2018 to 3% or less by 2022. However, even that seems too high and we will continue to work on our efforts.

My Lords, it would be nice if, on his birthday, we could get to my noble friend Lord Simon, so my question is very short—fewer than 75 words. Inequalities in smoking remain the largest cause of life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor and are the main reason for the lives of people with serious mental illness being shortened by up to 20 years. Does the Minister agree that the smoke-free ambition may be achieved only by the most advantaged and will the Government’s further proposals address this inequality?

Health inequalities are one of the most pernicious and difficult aspects of modern life and the Government are focused on them. Smoking is a graphic example of the worst of our inequalities. That is why the prevention Green Paper focuses on these kinds of inequalities and why our response will be muscular and determined.

My Lords, the Government propose that pubs should aim at two metres between smokers and non-smokers when outside. However, the Minister should know that social distancing is already being flouted when alcohol is involved. Is he concerned that this so-called compromise is supported by FOREST, which is funded by the tobacco industry, and will he answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and ensure that the guidance will be issued by the Department of Health and Social Care rather than by MHCLG?

I take a different view from the noble Baroness on the success of pubs’ efforts to introduce social distancing. I spent the weekend in a number of pubs and I was extremely impressed by the measures that publicans have put in place. That is why we support the role of local authorities in judging the right measures for the right pubs and why we will support the government amendment.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the rate of smoking among adults in Blackpool is almost double that of Westminster. Given the Government’s levelling-up agenda, plus the fact that we know that smoking is related to illnesses that amplify the impact of Covid-19, and indeed threaten greater rates of death, why have we not seen emergency legislation to bring in a smoke-free 2030 fund, which has already been well explored and set out?

I completely agree with the noble Baroness that there is a massive health dimension to the levelling-up agenda. Health inequalities affect families the hardest and the Government are highly focused on them. However, it is not our style to introduce emergency legislation, because we believe that prevention is better than cure and that people have rights and choices to make for themselves.

My Lords, I welcome the publication of the draft guidance on pavement licences in time for the debate this afternoon. However, I note that, while local authorities are to consider public health when setting local conditions, Section 5.2 fails to reference the smoking reduction targets set out in the tobacco control plan or the ambition for a smoke-free England by 2030. These would be a helpful addition, so will the Minister consider including them as the guidance is finalised?

It is not my role to comment on the drafting of legislation in the manner that my noble friend describes. However, I resolutely repeat the Government’s commitment to a smoke-free 2030 and the tobacco control plan, both of which are absolutely essential to our tobacco policies.

My Lords, no licences are required to sell deadly tobacco products and, while retailers can be prosecuted for underage sales or selling illicit tobacco, penalties are low. Over 70% of small tobacco retailers strongly support introducing a licence that could be removed if retailers break the law. Will the Government commit to consulting on the introduction of such a licence to help progress towards a smoke-free 2030?

My Lords, I completely hear the views of retailers. No one wants to put a retailer in an awkward position and I completely understand why they would support the introduction of licensing. However, that is not currently our plan and we believe that we can get to a smoke-free 2030 without introducing onerous and expensive new regulations of the kind that the noble Viscount describes.