London, (Parliament Politics Magazine) I have unwaveringly championed the cause of a Smokefree Britain since being elected to Parliament back in 2010. I havefrequently urged the Government to take further action on such an important matter. It is vital that we recognise the huge damage cigarettes and other nicotine products cause to ourselves, those around us and more widely the whole of society. I am encouraged and confident that with the Governments continued commitment, we will stamp out smoking in Britain by 2030.
When I was in my early twenties, I remember being at University and getting the phone call we all dread. My parents both died within a month of each other from smoking related illness and my late mother was only 47, leaving behind myself and three younger sisters. We all have the mentality that it will never be us and these are cases you only hear about through the television. The reality is it can be any of us and more than likely will affect someone we love, with tens of thousands each year dyeing from smoking related illnesses in Britain alone.
It is frightening to see so many teenagers and children frequently using tobacco products, whether that be a cigaretteor a strawberry flavoured vaping product. Each year, 207,000 children in the UK start smoking. Taking up smoking at a young age drastically heightens the probability that the habitwill continue into adulthood, demonstrated through a recent study which shows 80% of current smokers started before they were even 20.
Children decide to begin smoking for a variety of reasons.More often than not, they have succumbed to peer pressure or social norms. Tobacco companies immorally thrive on this market, advertising their products as ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ to fit in at school. Those with smokers as parents are three times more likely to take it up, amounting to a staggering 23,000 children starting each year for this reason alone. Peer pressure or expectation is another hugely influencing factor for young people. Among those who smoke, 98% of their social group also do. Comparatively, for non-smokers, only 42% of their social groups are smokers.
The cost to the NHS is another hugely detrimental implication of tobacco sales. It is estimated that the total cost to society is approximately £12.9 billion a year. That is £12.9 billion coming straight from the tax payers purse every single year! Additionally, this is not the only cost. There will, of course,also be increased waiting times to see your doctor and reducedNHS recourses for those suffering from non-smoking related illness. Research shows that there is a drastically higher chance of contracting heart disease, dementia, mental health, cancer, diabetes, still births, multiple sclerosis amongst many, many others. It seems ludicrous that with all the data and statistics, people are still incentivised to start smoking. It is vital that we combat this and prevent people from starting in the first place, because once they start, it is a much harder feat to stop due to its extremely addictive qualities.
Since I began working on this important issue, we have made some significant progress over the years of which I am very proud. It is needless to say, however, that there is still a long road ahead to achieve a smokefree Britain by 2030. Back in September 2013, I sponsored a Westminster Hall debate encouraging the Government to introduce legislation that would ensure tobacco products could only be sold if they had standard packaging. At the time, both the Government Minister and the opposition opposed this proposal. I am pleased that some three years later, in May of 2016, the Government realised the necessity of this measure and introduced standardised packaging. It is encouraging that the Government continues to make these positive steps, including by commissioning the recent Khan review. It is essential that they continue to fund such measures to ensure we reach the 2030 target.
I mentioned previously that the Government recently commissioned Dr Javed Khan to undertake an independent review into the Government’s ambition to make England smokefree by 2030. The findings from this report were devastating, but as expected because we are more than aware of the detrimental impact smoking has on our health. There were a number of recommendations made to help achieve the target, including raising the age of sale by a year every annum and a stronger NHS focus on preventing smoking. The Government would need to urgently spend £125million per year to make this a reality – a small cost when the effects of smoking are costing the UK’s economy £12.9 billion each year. This can be more than funded through a levy on the profits of the big tobacco companies.
I will continue to champion my mission to get Britain Smokefree by 2030. I am confident that, together with Government support, we can stamp out this harmful killer.
Bob Blackman has been the MP for Harrow East since 2010. He is also a member of the Joint Executive Secretary of the backbench 1922 Committee. Prior to his election to Parliament he was the Member of the London Assembly between 2004 and 2008.