Taking place on National No Smoking Day, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health led a backbench debate on the subject of smoking, reducing the damage it causes, and why the country needs a new Tobacco Control Plan. Naturally, discussions also included vaping – as it has played a massive role in reducing smoking numbers and forms a key part of the government’s future strategy.
Bob Blackman, the Conservative chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group, began by informing the House of the scale of the problem the UK faces:
·The significant health harms associated with tobacco smoking; that every day in England, 150 new cases of cancer are diagnosed as a direct consequence of smoking, a person is admitted to hospital with a smoking-related illness every single minute, and smoking kills 78,000 people a year.
·The impacts of smoking during pregnancy on the health of children.
·Smoking’s association with increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, new evidence “ranks smoking third out of nine modifiable risk factors leading to dementia”.
Labour’s Virendra Sharma asked Bob Blackman if he agreed that vaping represents a less harmful alternative to smoking.
“I would encourage anyone who smokes and who wants to give up to try vaping. If vaping is considered by that individual to be a safer alternative, I would encourage them to try it,” Blackman replied.
But, added: “It is certainly healthier to choose vaping as a way to give up smoking. However, I am concerned about the number of young people who are taking up vaping directly.”
The Government has set out a vision for England to be smoke-free by 2030, but Cancer Research UK modelled the Government’s plan and has said that the target won’t be achieved until 2039 at the earliest with the current level of support it is offering.
“The delay will cause around 1 million smoking-related cancer cases in the UK alone,” Bob Blackman stated.
Lamenting that a new Tobacco Control Plan has not been published since the old one expired at the start of 2022, Blackman said his of his own Party, “it is not good enough”.
The Government’s own Khan Review called for an additional £125 million to be spent on promoting vaping, saying this was needed “urgently”. This hasn’t happened.
Labour’s Mary Glindon pointed out it said: “The government must embrace the promotion of vaping as an effective tool to help people to quit smoking tobacco. We know vapes are not a ‘silver bullet’ nor are they totally risk-free, but the alternative”, as has already been said, “is far worse.”
She quoted Dr Debbie Robson, a senior lecturer in tobacco harm reduction at King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, who has said: “The levels of exposure to cancer causing and other toxicants are drastically lower in people who vape compared with those who smoke.”
Then she went on to cite Professor Ann McNeil, a professor of tobacco addiction at the institute, who has said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two-thirds of adult smokers, who would really benefit from switching to vaping, don’t know that vaping is less harmful”.
Naturally, conversations turned to the issue of disposable vapes. All of the politicians expressed their concern that black market vapes are getting into the hands of teenagers and debated ways in which the problem could be addressed.
The debate wasn’t led by the Government and the discussions do not indicate future policy, but it did give an insight into what the Group on Smoking and Health might recommend next.
It finished with the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, Neil O’Brien saying: “Although I cannot divulge the specifics of the proposals at this time, I assure hon. Members that they are grounded in the best evidence on reducing tobacco use and its associated harms. They are bold, innovative and ambitious, and we have carefully considered the Khan review’s recommendations as part of the process. I look forward to the opportunity to share more details with hon. Members very soon and to set out more details of our road map to a smokefree 2030.”