HC Deb 14 January 2003 vol 397 cc540-2
9. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What new proposals he has to reduce nicotine deaths. [90197]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears)

Some 120,000 people die every year from smoking. Forthcoming changes that will reduce deaths include banning tobacco advertising, starting with newspapers and billboards from 14 February, new stark warnings on cigarette packets and a major expansion of NHS smoking cessation services.

Paul Flynn

The Government are to be warmly congratulated on their work on this issue, but is it not amazing that over the past 20 years the number of male cancers in Sweden has been cut in half and that smoking among men has gone down from 36 per cent. to 17 per cent.? Last month, the Royal College of Physicians said that using smokeless tobacco is up to 1,000 times less hazardous than using smoking tobacco. Is it not right that the product that has achieved that remarkable health improvement should now be taken off the banned list and become available in some form in countries outside Sweden? Unfortunately, the Government have said that setting up a regulatory authority to consider all those matters is not planned at the moment. When is that likely to be done, enabling us to take a rational look at all forms of smoking?

Ms Blears

I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend that smokeless tobacco should be encouraged. All tobacco products are addictive, and it is much better to take our approach—helping people to give up smoking entirely, with Zyban and nicotine replacement therapy—and to see how that works. I am afraid that we do not have a history of oral tobacco use, as people have in Sweden. The Swedish National Institute of Public Health does not support the use of Snus as a smoking cessation product because it is very concerned indeed that it could become a gateway to tobacco use, particularly for young people, at whom it is specifically marketed. Far from helping people to give up, it could increase the number, especially of young people, who use tobacco. It is a very interesting debate—I am sure that it will continue—but I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend on this issue.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

Will the Minister join me in congratulating South East Hertfordshire primary care trust, together with local GPs, pharmacists, practice nurses and the Hertfordshire stop smoking groups, on the excellent work that they are doing in my constituency to help my constituents to give up smoking? Although we still have three months to go, the primary care trust has already exceeded its 2002–03 Government target, with more than 200 people having given up smoking. Will the Minister please tell the House what action she is taking to put pressure on Ministers in other Departments to tackle the very serious problem of tobacco and cigarette smuggling, which has a serious impact on the issue that we are trying to address and which, of course, she particularly wishes to solve?

Ms Blears

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in congratulating all the people in her local area on the magnificent results that they have achieved. Those results are replicated throughout the country. More than 200,000 people are now being helped to give up smoking, and we are aiming for an extra 800,000 over the next three years. We are putting in the money to ensure that that can happen, because it requires extra resources as well.

On cross-government action to reduce smuggling, we are in constant contact with Treasury Ministers to ensure that we bear down on the problem. We have a cross-government action plan to tackle not just smoking but all the damaging effects of tobacco on our community. We have a whole range of policies in the Treasury, the Department of Health and, particularly, the Department for Education and Skills, and we are doing a great deal of work to alert young people in schools to the dangers of tobacco and, indeed, of other drugs.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work on tobacco, particularly in relation to tobacco advertising. The next huge timebomb that we face in health is obesity in children. Is she prepared to consider as part of a strategy limiting the advertising to young people of products high in fat, sugar and salt, which cause such huge damage to our young population?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend highlights an extremely important issue, which is almost a timebomb waiting to hit us in years to come. He will know that the Government have a huge range of policies to improve people's diet and nutrition: the national school fruit scheme, the five-a-day projects and a range of plans to encourage people to have access to a healthier diet. He raises the important issue of advertising to young people. The Food Standards Agency is conducting a research project to examine the effects of advertising foods high in sugar and salt to young children. I shall read its report with great interest to see what action we can take to improve the diets of young people in this country.