Thursday 9th November 2023

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, in the seven minutes in which we are asked to speak today, seven people will have hospital appointments because of their smoking habit. The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that this amounts to around 450,000 hospital appointments in England every year. In the seven hours we expect to debate today, around 700 GP appointments will be made because of smoking. Cancer Research UK estimates that around 900,000 GP appointments are made every year because of smoking. In England alone, nearly 200 people will die every day because of smoking.

The tobacco manufacturers try to suggest that the frequent ill health and the 50% death rate of those who smoke are a simply a matter of their personal choice, but smoking tobacco has consequences for many other people beyond those trapped by nicotine addiction.

Aged 16, I was woken by my younger brother, as our mum had overslept and we were late for school. I got up, but I could not wake her. She was just 53, and she never woke up. She was a heavy smoker and severely disabled. She died of hypertensive heart disease, and smoking was a significant contributory factor in her death. She did not choose to die that way; she was addicted. She did not choose for her children to become orphans and for us to lose our home—and becoming homeless at that time was not a “lifestyle choice”. So, yes, the issue is a personal one about the consequences of smoking: it is not a choice but an addiction, and one which the vast majority of smokers, having started in their youth, come to regret.

There was little in the gracious Speech to inspire anyone, including those on the Government Benches. Change is not change when little more is promised than bland slogans about a brighter future but with the same people and the same policies. But praise must be given where praise is due; and the latest in a lengthy line of successful measures to help reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking is to be heartily welcomed. Lives will be saved; people will be healthier and wealthier, and the whole country will benefit.

This year, the cost to the public purse of early deaths due to smoking will be £31 billion. This year, the cost of lost productivity due to smoking will be £38 billion. This year, the cost due to smoking in terms of lost tax receipts, increased social security spending and extra costs to public services such as the NHS will be more than £9 billion, and that is after the tax receipts from tobacco are taken into account.

Meanwhile, the tobacco companies continue to make enormous profits. This year, the four biggest tobacco companies in the UK will make around £900 million in profits. It is no wonder that they spend so much money on desperate tactics to deceive people about every single measure that we have ever introduced to reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking. We should listen instead to medical advice. Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, spoke recently about the plan to gradually raise the age at which you can be legally sold tobacco. He said:

“The overwhelming majority of the medical profession, the nursing profession and all the health charities support this”.

He described claims from the tobacco industry that the policy would not work as “bogus”. He told the BBC:

“As a doctor I’ve seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking because it’s killing them and yet they cannot—their choice has been removed”.

The Bill has support from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Royal Society of Public Health, the UK Faculty of Public Health, Asthma + Lung UK, and Alzheimer’s Research UK, among all the many organisations putting public health above the vast private profits of the tobacco companies. However, using their well-funded front organisations, the tobacco companies are orchestrating their usual deceptive and devious techniques to try to protect those profits. They have a few champions, such as Liz Truss and the Institute of Economic Affairs, which helped her to crash our economy—and Boris Johnson, whose judgment and integrity are well known, who says that the plan is a ban.

The plan is not a ban on smoking, because no smoker will be banned from their habit. What will be made illegal is underage sale, in the same way that a few years ago we extended the minimum age for someone who can be sold cigarettes from 16 to 18. The plan will extend this further year by year. The measure offers great hope to everyone below the age of 14, for whom it will never be legal to be sold cigarettes. The evidence is that such measures will not increase the illicit market. When the age of sale increased from 16 to 18 in 2007, it had no negative impact on this market, which continues to fall.

The issue of moving to a more smoke-free Britain, and seeking to be smoke-free by 2030, does not involve a choice between restricting sales of tobacco and more public health activity to help smokers quit. We need both. Two-thirds of those people trying just one cigarette, usually as children, go on to become daily smokers, and daily smokers are addicted smokers. The plan to limit cigarette sales further has strong public support; it does not divide the Government and the Opposition Front Benches—and I hope that pressure from the tobacco lobbyists will be firmly resisted across both Houses, as it clearly has been in this House today.