In 2019, this Government set the bold ambition for England to be Smokefree by 2030 – reducing smoking rates to 5% or less. To support this, the Government commissioned Dr Javed Khan OBE to undertake an Independent Review which was published in June 2022.
As I set out in a letter to colleagues on 11 April, I am pleased to be able to update the House on new action we have announced to help more people in England to quit smoking in order to meet our Smokefree 2030 ambition. We also announced further measures to protect children from the use of vaping products, in recognition of the sharp increase in vaping among children in recent years.
One in seven adults (5.4 million people) still smoke in England, and tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death. Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking, and smoking substantially increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Smoking also causes 7 out of 10 cases of lung cancer. Tackling smoking is one of the most evidence based and effective interventions that we can take to prevent ill health. It will improve public health, reduce the burden on the NHS, and provides substantial benefits to our workforce and the economy.
Across the country, people are concerned by the increases in youth vaping among children. It is illegal to sell vapes to under 18s and this Government wants to clamp down on those businesses who rely on children buying vapes and getting them hooked on nicotine. To help combat rising levels of youth vaping, the Government has now published a youth vaping call for evidence. The call for evidence aims to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes, exploring issues such as regulatory compliance, the marketing and promotion of vape products and the environmental impact of disposable vapes. We will explore where the Government can go further, beyond what the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive allowed us to. I encourage colleagues from across the House to contribute and help inform our next steps. The call for evidence is available here:https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/youth-vaping-call-for-evidence/youth-vaping-call-for-evidence.
While we want to ensure children do not take up vaping, we would also like to exploit the potential of vaping as a powerful tool to stop adults smoking. Vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking and our most effective quit aid – particularly when provided alongside behavioural support. That is why last week I announced that we will be supporting a million smokers to ‘swap to stop’, with free vaping kit – the first national scheme of its kind in the world. The scheme will run over two years initially and will be targeted at the most at-risk communities first - focusing on settings such as job centres, homeless centres, and social housing providers.
I was also pleased to announce new action to tackle illicit tobacco and vaping, as well as underage sales. Later this year, His Majesty's Revenue and Customs and Border Force will publish an updated strategy to tackle illicit tobacco. It will set out how we will continue to target, catch, and punish those involved in the illicit market. This Government has also committed £3 million of new funding to create a specialised “illicit vapes enforcement squad” to enforce the rules on the sale of vapes, tackling illicit vapes and underage sales. This national programme will gather intelligence, coordinate efforts across the country, undertake test purchasing and develop guidance to build regulatory compliance.
Across England, nearly 9% of women still smoke in pregnancy. To tackle this, by next year we will offer a financial incentive to all pregnant women who smoke to support them to quit. In pilot projects these evidence-based schemes have already proven their value with a return on investment of £4 for every £1 invested. Most importantly, they unlock a lifetime of benefits for the child and their mother.
I also announced that the Government will consult this year on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts, to refresh the health messaging on cigarette packets with positive messages and information to help people to quit smoking. We are exploring how best we can use modern approaches within this, such as the use of QR codes, to make it as easy as possible to get help to quit.
On 24 January, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced our intention to develop a Major Conditions Strategy Our plan to tackle preventable ill-health and mortality in England. It will focus on tackling the most prevalent conditions that contribute to morbidity and mortality in our population – cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, dementia, mental ill health, and musculoskeletal conditions. Tackling smoking will be central to this strategy.
Through these actions, we have set out the Government plan to meeting our bold ambition to be Smokefree by 2030 and respond to The Khan Review. We are committed to doing all we can to give people the support they need to quit smoking, tackling the damage from the illicit market and minimising the growing threat of vaping by children.
However, we cannot do this alone. A close collaboration is needed right across the health system – including the NHS, Local Authorities, and a range of public health stakeholders. We hope that together our efforts will act as a powerful catalyst to reduce health disparities and prevent smoking-related death, disease, and despair.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords