Sharon Hodgson MP

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Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16


Sharon speaking in the Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16

Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Tobacco Control Plans. In her speech, Sharon discussed the issue of regional and socio-economic variations in smoking prevalence, along with the take-up of smoking amongst children and young people and smoking amongst pregnant women. Sharon also called on the Government to explain their delayed introduction of a new Tobacco Control Plan. 

You can read Sharon's speechin Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16

Speech pasted below:

 2.55 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Buck. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing him and others to secure this important debate. As we all know, he has done much during his time in Parliament to address the sale and use of tobacco products, not only in his own constituency just up the road from my own but across the country. That includes his excellent work with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to bring forward the ban on smoking in cars with children. I commend him for his tireless campaigning and commitment to this hugely important area of public health policy.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I pay tribute in particular to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chair of the Health Committee, for the support and expertise she brings to the debate. Her predecessor plus one or two, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), also has a huge wealth of expertise and knowledge across the whole health brief. In my new role, I will certainly be calling on him a fair bit—I hope that he is prepared and willing for that to happen. I also want to commend the other right hon. and hon. Members who spoke today: the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who spoke on behalf of the SNP.

I wish to say a few words to the public health Minister. This is our second outing together and I have had this role for only four days, so I think this will be a regular thing. I am definitely looking forward to keeping a close eye on her work at the Department of Health and to debating across the Chamber. I am sure we will do that on many important issues facing our country’s health. If the tireless work of my predecessor, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), is anything to go by, that will be often—surely he has his own seat in here with his name on it because he was in here so much. That is a daunting prospect.

Today we are debating the important topic of tobacco products. It is crucial that the message is put across to the Government that more can and should be done to ensure that we all lead healthier lives. The control of the sale and use of tobacco is an important public health matter not only for those individuals who use it but for all around them.

During Labour’s time in office, we recognised that fact, which is why we did a lot to address smoking in society, most famously with the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places. The ban brought in a culture change in our society. When we used to walk into any indoor public space, it was the norm to be met with a cloud of stale tobacco smoke, whereas now all of us—especially children and families—can enjoy ourselves freely without having to breathe in second-hand smoke or have the overhang of smoke in the air.

The Tory-led coalition Government came into power and brought in their own tobacco control plan, and it was welcome that it achieved so much over its lifetime, ​including the prohibition of point-of-sale displays in shops; the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products; and the national ambitions on reducing smoking, which were all met. However, when the plan ceased at the end of last year, it was vital that the Government published a new plan in a timely manner to build on the work of previous Governments. Sadly, nearly a year on, the Government have failed to come forth with such a plan, despite the promise and a commitment to do so last December.

Last month, the Health Minister in the House of Lords failed to commit to a final date for publication. We were expecting to have sight of that plan over the summer; we are now hopeful that we will see it during the Indian summer. Changes in Government meant the plan was put on hold. The delay is not too dissimilar in some ways to the constant delay to the childhood obesity plan—although at least that was rushed out over the summer.

A change in ministerial personnel should not be an excuse for delaying such an important intervention in the health of our society, especially when the new Prime Minister stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street in the summer and committed her Government to

“fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.”

We were led to assume that was going to be the driving force of the Prime Minister’s Government, and I hope it is, but the rhetoric has not yet translated into reality when it comes to this serious public health issue facing our country.

The Government have faced a vocal chorus from charities and organisations, including the British Medical Association, Action on Smoking and Health and the British Lung Foundation, which have all called on the Government to get their act together and publish the new plan. In that regard I also commend the work of Fresh, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North mentioned, which does such sterling work in the region with the highest smoking rates and some of the worst health outcomes.

The Minister and her officials at the Department of Health are being told loud and clear to get on with the job at hand and to answer the crucial question that has come out of today’s debate: what is the delay? I hope she will shed some light on that important question in her response and—finally—tell us when we can expect the new tobacco control plan.

I want to set the scene on why it is so important we have a new plan, on top of what has already been said today, by looking at the facts and figures on smoking, including the variation of smoking habits among certain groups of society—especially children, young people and pregnant women. The smoking rate in England is 19%, but that varies from region to region. It is highest in the north-east, where it reaches 19.9%, and lowest, at 16.6%, in the south-east. Those are regional figures. When looking at the figures borough by borough, my local authority of Sunderland does not fare well at all, with 23% of the population smoking. That is much higher than even the highest of the regional averages.

Looking at smokers based on their socioeconomic status, it is clear the less well-off in society are more likely to smoke. I am not going to go into all of the reasons for that. We just have to accept it is where we ​are—but what can we do about it? Smoking rates among those in the professional and managerial socioeconomic group are less than half the rate of those in routine and manual socioeconomic groups, at 12% and 28% respectively. When the net income of a family and their smoking expenditure are both taken into consideration across England, 1.4 million, or 27%, of the households with a smoker fall below the poverty line. If those costs were returned to the families, it is estimated that approximately 769,900 adults and 324,550 dependent children would be lifted out of poverty.

That is a striking statistic, especially given the study published only a few weeks ago that showed that 250,000 children will be pushed into poverty during the lifetime of this Parliament due to the Government’s policies. Getting it right on smoking could totally negate that impact, so it is definitely something worth looking it. The stats show we must do more to address the cycle of health inequality, which spans generations and continues the awful situation in which there are huge life expectancy gaps between the rich and poor, as we have clearly heard today. If the Government want to change that, one way would be to step up and continue the work of reducing smoking in society.

If those figures do not spur the Minister on to bring forward the new tobacco control plan, hopefully looking at the issue of smoking among our children and young people will. It is welcome that smoking among children and young people fell to an all-time low of 6% under the last tobacco control plan, as we have heard, but it remains an issue when two thirds of adult smokers report taking up the habit before the age of 18, with 80% saying it was before 20. That is compounded when children who live with parents or siblings who smoke are three times more likely to take up the habit than children from non-smoking households. It is also estimated that 23,000 young people in England and Wales start smoking by the age of 15 due to exposure to smoking in the home.

Kevin Barron

My hon. Friend uses the statistics very well. Do they not defeat the myth that smoking is an adult habit?

Mrs Hodgson

They certainly do. The situation on children smoking is quite stark. The earlier children start smoking, the more serious the consequences are for their health. Children who take up smoking are two to six times more susceptible to coughs and increased phlegm, wheeziness and shortness of breath than those who do not smoke. It can also impact their lung growth, which can impair lung function and increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in later life. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, 25,000 people a year die from COPD. Surely we do not want any child in this country to die in that way. The prevalence of these conditions among smokers shows it is paramount that we seriously tackle smoking among our children and young people. We do not want to see the children of today being the COPD sufferers of the future, as well as having those other conditions.

Alex Cunningham

I am really pleased my hon. Friend is framing the issue specifically around children. My wife, Evaline, worked as a school nurse and used to hold classes talking to young people about this. She would ​put forward the economic argument—“If you smoke so many cigarettes over so many days over so many months it costs £2,000, which could buy you a summer holiday.” She was then told, “No, Miss, you’ve got it wrong; it is only £3.20 a packet from Mrs Bloggs down the road.” Do we not also need to ensure we tackle illicit tobacco and ensure children understand the dangers of that as well?

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The danger and quality of illicit tobacco can often be far worse for health than just long-term smoking. The substances used in those cigarettes can be life threatening.

I will move on to the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, which was raised by the hon. Member for Totnes. While we know the harms of living in a household with a smoker, for some that harm starts before birth as 10.6% of women are smokers at the time of delivery. That equates to 67,000 infants born to smoking mothers each year, while up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and around 2,200 premature births each year have been attributed to smoking during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy has been identified as the No. 1 risk factor for babies to die unexpectedly. According to research by the British Medical Association, if parents stop smoking, that could reduce the number of sudden infant deaths by 30%. Those are shocking figures that show the heartache and pain a mother and the family around her will go through from the horrific events of losing a baby through, for example, miscarriage, stillbirth or sudden infant death. That is especially pertinent this week as it is baby loss awareness week, which I know some of us are wearing little pins to commemorate. There is a debate currently going on in the main Chamber —there was; it has just finished—in which many colleagues gave heartbreaking accounts of their personal experiences or those of their constituents who have suffered the loss of a baby. I was able to intervene and give a personal account of my own experience.

Baby loss due to smoking is preventable if Government action is taken as soon as possible. Important work has been implemented on smoking during pregnancy that has seen the number of pregnant women smoking fall to its lowest-ever levels, but I welcome the calls from the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group to see a commitment from the Minister today to work to reduce the percentage of women smoking during pregnancy to 6% or lower by 2020. It may be an aspirational figure, but it can be achieved as long as a comprehensive plan is put in place to control the use and sale of tobacco.

Regional variations, including those I mentioned earlier, must be addressed; other colleagues have mentioned them, too. We are seeing 16% of women in the north-east and Cumbria smoking at the point of delivery, compared with only 4.9% in London. This stark figure shows that more regional action and support must be offered by the Department of Health to ensure that regional inequalities are addressed. The regional variations and the other variations mentioned show that the slashing of the public health grants is a false economy when it comes to seriously driving forward the agenda on public health, especially in relation to smoking.

In last year’s autumn statement, the then Chancellor announced further cuts in the public health grant, which amounted to an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each ​year to 2020-21, and translates to a further cash reduction of 9.6% in addition to the £200 million worth of cuts announced in the 2015 Budget. As we know, specialist support and stop smoking services help to get people off cigarettes and to lead a far healthier lifestyle. However, cuts to public health funding have meant that it has proven far more difficult for local authorities to provide that much needed specialist support.

In a survey of local tobacco control leads conducted by Action on Smoking and Health and commissioned by Cancer Research UK, a total of 40% of local stop smoking services were being reconfigured or decommissioned in 2014-15. In Manchester, we have seen a complete decommissioning of stop smoking services. This is even more concerning when the initial results of the 2015-16 survey show that the rate of decommissioning and reconfiguring is increasing. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to commit to ensuring that we have a substantial source of funding for specialist services that help to support in particular those in lower social economic groups as well as pregnant women to quit smoking. We must end the intergenerational cycle of health inequality that I have spoken about.

It is important that we have a plan and that we have it now—a plan that continues the work of previous Governments to reduce smoking in our society. We have seen inroads into creating a healthier society, but we all recognise we have a long way to go, as the facts and figures show. The Government’s delayed plan must be published now, and it must have measures in place that will address the many variations, from geographical variation to deprivation and socioeconomic background variation.

We must see further work to address the take-up of smoking by children and young people if we are to ever achieve our goal of the next generation being healthier than the last. We need to address smoking among young people head on. Achieving a smoke-free society is within our reach, but what we do not need is further delay and hesitation by the Government. What we need is bold action.

I hope that the Minister can give us that bold action today and that she does so by finally giving us the date when the new tobacco control plan will be published. The longer we wait, the more children will take up smoking, the more people will get ill and, sadly, the more people will die. The time for waiting is over. We now need bold action.


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