Phil Hunt on the government’s half-baked attempt to stop more people in the UK taking up smoking
Although incidences of smoking have dramatically reduced in the UK, it still remains a huge health risk for too many people. That is why the latest Tobacco Products regulations – debated tonight in the House of Lords – are so important.
Key changes proposed by this secondary legislation include larger health warnings on all cigarette packs, along with picture warnings and information about where to get help quitting. Along with the prohibition of flavours, including menthol, from 2020 as there is evidence that this makes it easier for children to try smoking and become addicted. Plus enhanced reporting obligations on the tobacco industry will require including sales data and market research on the impact of ingredients and emissions, particularly on young people.
The regulations however, also provide for electronic cigarettes and there is a genuine concern that it could make it more difficult to promote the use of these amongst current smokers. Vaping has been shown to be a safe and effective way to give up smoking, with endorsements as such by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society of Public Health. Despite this, many members of the public believe e-cigarette use is harmful and restrictions are in danger of reinforcing that belief.
Overall, the regulations are a positive improvement, which is why Labour cannot support Conservative Peer Lord Callanan’s Regret Motion asking asking the Government to withdraw the regulations altogether. Instead, I will propose an amendment that keeps the regulations in place but raises concerns over government policy – including the failure to establish a monitoring mechanism. This would measure whether the directive could have a negative impact on the number of smokers using e-cigarettes and the failure of Ministers to launch a public awareness campaign re-assuring smokers that vaping is much less harmful.
My motion also draws attention to cuts in those local services that encourage people to stop smoking. There is already clear evidence of disinvestment in tobacco control, as councils faced with reduced budgets are in turn reducing such services. A survey by ASH and Cancer Research UK found that smoking cessation budgets were cut in 39% of upper-tier local authorities in England in 2015-16, two thirds of which significantly so. Yes these regulations will help reduce the uptake of smoking amongst young people, but in its rush to push this imperfect legislation through the government risks being accused of making policy on the back of a fag packet.
Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Health is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordPhilofBrum
Published 4th July 2016