HC Deb 02 March 1999 vol 326 cc869-70
8. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What action he is taking to promote the spread of nicotine replacement therapy in health action zones. [72382]

The Minister for Public Health (Ms Tessa Jowell)

Up to £60 million will be available over the next three years, initially in health action zones, to develop smoking cessation services. Part of those funds will provide for the distribution of one week's nicotine replacement therapy free of charge to those smokers least able to afford it.

Dr. Starkey

I welcome the Minister's response in relation to health action zones. May I remind her that the south-east has not a single health action zone, because the region is relatively affluent? However, there are pockets of deprivation, some of which are in my constituency—one of them has a smoking cessation programme. Will she consider extending the week's free nicotine replacement therapy to people on benefit in projects such as the one at Netherfield in my constituency?

Ms Jowell

It is intended that, following assessment of the effectiveness of smoking cessation services in health action zones after the first year, there will be further cessation services and free nicotine replacement therapy in the subsequent two years. This is intended to be a national programme.

It is important to link the scheme with its original purpose. We as a Government have committed ourselves to improving the health of the worst-off at a faster rate than the rate of improvement in the health of the population as a whole. More poor people than those who are better off die prematurely of cancer and heart disease, and many of those early deaths are due to smoking. That is why our providing free nicotine replacement and tackling the problem of smoking with smoking cessation services is so important to our broader aim of tackling health inequality.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

May I declare a non-financial interest as chairman of the National Asthma Campaign?

Has the Minister seen reports of research done at Oxford, showing that heart and lung disease are now major killers, and that the biggest cause of such deaths is smoking? Will she ensure that the money spent on nicotine replacement therapy is not misused or used ineffectively, in view of a major campaign by the cigarette companies, which are trying to suggest that tax on cigarettes should not be increased in the Budget? It ought to be increased, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that comes about.

Ms Jowell

As the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, tax on cigarettes is a matter for the Chancellor. We may well hear more about it next week.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's broader point, we are determined to ensure that each of the measures set out in "Smoking Kills", the tobacco White Paper, is implemented and assessed in relation to its effectiveness. We must also ensure that the money invested is invested in saving lives from smoking, and tackling the inequality in health that it causes.