Conservative David Jones opened the debate by declaring an interest as an honorary life fellow of Cancer Research UK (CRUK), saying: “This is not the first occasion on which I have raised the need to pursue the goal of a smoke-free society. I raised it previously in a Westminster Hall debate in 2019. I continue to pursue this issue because the ills of smoking continue to persist, and they will continue to trouble our society for many years to come unless we take action now.”
“It is absolutely right that we encourage smokers to take up vaping” – Gareth Johnson MP
Jones stated that the UK’s exit from the European Union presents a golden opportunity to take control of our approach to tobacco harm reduction through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulation (TRPR) review.
“Since the last Westminster Hall debate that I secured on this issue in June 2019, the Government have committed to delivering a smoke-free society by 2030. There is no time to waste, and nor should we waste the opportunities that we have this year. The needs of the 7 million people in the UK who, sadly, still smoke must remain at the forefront of our minds. If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is listening, I am sure he will be pleased to hear, especially in these difficult times, that nothing I propose this morning will require any expenditure by Her Majesty’s Treasury.”
Jones warned that the health costs of tobacco falls disproportionately on the poor, ethnic minorities, and those suffering from poor mental health conditions. He said that it was these disadvantaged communities that were being left behind, “and the inequalities gap is getting worse.”
“Research shows that e-cigarettes are effective in helping some smokers to quit, and therefore we need to support them” – Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care
He pressed the government to ground its plans in evidence and pointed out current modelling from CRUK predicts the government is on course to miss its 2030 deadline.
“The pace of change needs to be around 40% faster than projected to deliver the ambitious target, so now is the time to act. It is time to make use of our newly restored policy making freedoms to make a difference with the forthcoming tobacco control plan.”
He urged his party to continue to embrace vaping for those who struggle to quit because its “less harmful”. He also advocated a tax strategy that maximised the attractiveness of vaping when compared to smoking to encourage higher rates of switching.
“We have seen great results from e-cigarettes, and Public Health England recently found that in every region of England quit rates involving a vaping product were higher than those for any other method,” he continued. “However, while they have worked for many smokers, e-cigarettes are not a panacea. In fact, nearly half the smokers in Britain have tried vaping, but did not continue. Now the number of vapers is falling, which should be a cause for concern for us all.”
“The WHO’s negative view of vaping has been counterproductive” - Mark Pawsey MP
He suggested the use of cigarette pack inserts and online communications as ways to communicate the truth about vaping to smokers directly. Also, he advocated the scrapping of the “arbitrary” 20mg/ml limit on the nicotine content of eliquid, “we should look at setting our own limit at a level that would make the products more effective.”
He added that snus “could benefit from being part of a sensible framework” and more needed to be done with regards heated tobacco products as, “at the moment smokers cannot hear about those products”.
In his concluding statement, Jones took a swipe at the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control. It is, “a body that has taken positions that run completely counter to our own. Worryingly, just last month the WHO proposed a ban on vaping.”
“When we have attended the COP before, we have had to conform to the views of the EU grouping. This year, we will be attending, albeit perhaps only virtually, in our own right. This is the opportunity that I urge the Minister to consider. We have a strong story to tell on tobacco harm reduction at home, and we now have the freedom and ability to embrace bold, innovative new policies, such as those I have suggested this morning; so will we simply go along to get along at the COP, or will we do what is right by taking a bold and progressive stance in favour of tobacco harm reduction and proudly defend our own domestic position? I believe there is much that the world can learn from our approach, and I therefore urge the Minister to make the tobacco control plan one that will help us to deliver a smoke-free 2030, and one that we can showcase to the world later this year.”