Maggie Throup – 2022 Speech on Smokefree 2030

The speech made by Maggie Throup, the Conservative MP for Erewash, in the House of Commons on 3 November 2022.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). Like him, I could tear up my speech after listening to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I congratulate my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this important debate, which I have been eagerly awaiting for some time. I wish the hon. Member for City of Durham a speedy recovery.

I thank the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, which is so excellently chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, for all its work on this important area. It has undoubtedly been instrumental in changing the Government’s policy on smoking and their perception of the issue. I am sure that its work has contributed to saving many lives. I thank my hon. Friend for his invitation to become a member of the APPG; I am delighted to accept.

The reasons why we need to tackle smoking and become smoke free by 2030 have been well rehearsed in previous debates in Westminster Hall and this Chamber and repeated today, but I make no apology for highlighting the key reasons again. Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death. Surely we have a duty to do everything in our power to prevent ill health and death. Shockingly, cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that will kill most users: two out of three smokers will die from smoking unless they quit. More than 60,000 people are killed by smoking each year, which is approximately twice the number of people who died from covid-19 between March 2021 and March 2022, yet it does not make headline news. In 2019, a quarter of deaths from all cancers were connected to smoking.

The annual cost of smoking to society has been estimated at £17 billion, with a cost of approximately £2.4 billion to the NHS alone and with more than £13 billion lost through the productivity costs of tobacco-related lost earnings, unemployment and premature death. That dwarfs the estimated £10 billion income from taxes on tobacco products. People often tell me that we cannot afford for people to stop smoking because of the revenue generated by the sale of tobacco, but I argue that as a society, and for the good of our nation’s health, we cannot afford for people to smoke.

Achieving smoke-free status by 2030 will not only save the NHS money but, more importantly, save lives. If we are determined to bring down the NHS backlog, we need to prevent people from getting ill in the first place. If we want to achieve our goal of improving productivity, we need a healthy workforce. It takes a brave and bold Government to implement policies whose rewards will mainly be reaped by the next generation, but that is the right thing to do.

I want to focus on just one of the well-researched and well-received recommendations in the Khan review: the age of sale. The fact that retailers use the Challenge 21 and Challenge 25 schemes indicates just how hard it is to determine a young person’s age. Age of sale policies are partly about preventing young people from gaining access to age-restricted products such as cigarettes and alcohol. More importantly, as Dr Khan states, they are about stopping the start. Dr Khan recommends

“increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country… This will create a smokefree generation.”

That may seem pretty drastic, but so are the consequences of smoking. If we ask smokers when they started, the majority will say that it was when they were in their teens. The longer we delay the ability to legally take up smoking, the fewer people will take it up, and the fewer will therefore become addicted. Let’s face it: never starting to smoke is much easier than trying to quit.

We have already proved in the UK that raising the age of sale leads to a reduction in smoking prevalence. Increasing the age of sale from 16 to 18 in 2007 led to a 30% reduction in smoking prevalence for 16 and 17-year-olds in England. Other hon. Members have mentioned the change in America. I would argue that increasing the age of sale by one year every year is more acceptable than raising it in one go from 18 to 21, for example, or even to 25.

Dr Khan has also called for additional investment in the stop smoking services currently provided by local authorities. However, I am a great believer in making every contact count—every contact that someone makes with a GP, as an out-patient, as an in-patient or on a visit to a pharmacy. Every time a smoker sees a healthcare professional, it should be seen as part of the healthcare professional’s duty to better the health of their patient.

I was honoured to share the stage with Dr Javed Khan at the launch of his review in June, and I was pleasantly surprised by the virtually universal welcome that his recommendations received. Indeed, polling carried out by YouGov backs that up: 76% of respondents support Government activities to limit smoking, or think that the Government should do even more; just 6% say that they were doing too much; 76% support a requirement for tobacco manufacturers to pay a levy or fee, to finance measures to help smokers quit and prevent young people from smoking; 63% support an increase in the age of sale; and, for the benefit of those on the Government side of the Chamber, 73% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 support the Government’s smoke free 2030 ambition.

In our 2019 manifesto we committed ourselves to levelling up, and that commitment has been reiterated by our new Prime Minister. Levelling up is not just about infrastructure; it is also about levelling up our health and life chances. That is particularly important for my constituents, because 16.6% of adults in Erewash are currently smokers, which is above the national average. With average annual spending on cigarettes estimated to be around £2,000, it is not just the health of smokers that is being affected, but their pockets as well. Becoming smoke free by 2030 would lift about 2.6 million adults and 1 million children out of poverty, and so would aid our levelling-up agenda.

Before I end my speech, I want to raise the issue of e-cigarettes, or vaping. The Khan review contains a specific recommendation on this, and I want to explain why it is so important. As with cigarettes, the age of sale is 18, but time after time I see young people at the end of the school day using vapes—and that is outside schools without sixth forms. It is illegal for a retailer, whether online or on the high street, to sell vaping products to anyone under the age of 18, so I am not sure how under- age users are obtaining the devices. The manufacturers are obviously aiming some of their marketing at this age range through the use of cartoon characters, a rainbow of colours, and flavours to match. The function of e-cigarettes should be solely as an aid to quit smoking, and not, as I fear, as a fashion accessory and, potentially, the first step towards taking up smoking.

The proliferation of vape shops in our high streets and online proves that vapes have become an industry in their own right, and are now being used by tobacco companies to maintain their profits as restrictions on tobacco increase. I therefore ask the Minister to work with his colleagues in the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Education to see what more can be done to clamp down on the illegal supply of vapes to those under the age of 18. I also ask him for an update on progress in getting a vaping device authorised through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—a step that would send the strong message that vapes are an aid to quitting smoking and not an alternative to smoking.

Finally, let me ask a question that has already been asked by other Members today: will the Minister provide a date on which we can expect the tobacco control plan to be published?