Heated Tobacco DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Mr David JonesMP Main Page: Mr David Jones (Conservative - Clwyd West)
Department Debates - View all Mr David Jones's debates with the Department of Health and Social Care
(1 year ago)Westminster Hall
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing this important matter to the House for consideration. Does he agree that advice must be provided first about smoking cessation, rather than about vaping or any other alternative method? Does he also agree that although there are no long-term indications of the effects of vaping, whether burned or heated, the chemicals that are used will not be neutral, and there will therefore always be an element of concern and a need for greater research?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for securing this important debate. As a non-smoker, I think there is nothing worse than sitting outside a café in London or Shropshire and having my lungs full of somebody else’s smoke, or indeed trying to walk to Parliament and taking in a street full of smokers’ smoke. Having said that, I am a libertarian—if people want to smoke, they should be free to do so. His substantive point on public health education is absolutely right: the campaign against smoking is not over. In my constituency of The Wrekin, 19,000 people still smoke. Does he agree that public health is important?
I have been a smoke-free person for 15 years, but it took me 12 years to get there. I had various failed attempts to give up smoking because it was a choice between smoking and chewing gum, which really was not a successful pathway—it took me 12 years before I could finally give up. Any method that helps the process has to be a good idea.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) for raising the important issue of heated tobacco products and their contribution to reducing harm from smoking, and for his lifelong service as a fellow of Cancer Research UK. He put it very well: smoking is still prevalent in certain communities in our country, and still causes over 78,000 deaths a year in England. It is one of the leading causes of preventable illness and premature death. We have made great progress, particularly over the past 10 years. Adult smoking prevalence is now 14.9%—the lowest ever recorded level—but, as he pointed out, we have much further to go, particularly among certain groups and in certain parts of the country.
In the 2017 tobacco control plan, we set out our ambition to reduce smoking and ensure a smoke-free generation. Part of that strategy is about helping people to stop smoking by adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products. They may, for example, take up chewing gum. I have never seen my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) spit out his gum on the pavement.
Break in Debate
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Those of us who represent seats in the north and the devolved nations know that in some communities a very high proportion of people—particularly older men—are still smoking. Smoking cessation services are obviously part of the conversation about public health that the Department will be taking forward to the spending review.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West has argued that it would be timely for the Government to commission independent research into heated tobacco products’ potential for harm reduction. Obviously, if the tobacco companies were paying for it, it would not be independent. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) has set me an interesting challenge on tobacco levies. The new levy is being introduced in a few days, and I will definitely keep that under review.
The primary focus of our research at the moment is e-cigarettes, because heated tobacco is still very new on the market in this country. We will keep it under review and we will monitor the evidence through Public Heath England’s reviews. I agree entirely that it is important to look carefully at the evidence of harm reduction. I assure the House that we are, and will continue to be, led by that evidence.
Heated tobacco products are regulated under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 as novel tobacco, in accordance with the EU’s tobacco products directive. We know far more about e-cigarettes than we do about heated tobacco products. The research and evidence base is still in its infancy, and is mainly conducted by the tobacco industry. We asked the Committee on Toxicity to research the toxicological risks of heated tobacco products and compare them with those attributed to conventional cigarettes. It reported in December 2017, and the evidence suggests that heated tobacco products still pose a risk to users. There is likely to be a reduction in risk for cigarette smokers who switch to heated tobacco products, but quitting tobacco entirely is the most beneficial thing that anybody can do.
We have asked Public Health England to update the evidence base on e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine delivery systems annually. The PHE 2018 evidence review also had a comprehensive chapter on heated tobacco. It concluded the same as the Committee on Toxicity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West said, it stated that e-cigarettes are less harmful than heated tobacco. The latest PHE evidence review in February 2019 did not cover heated tobacco products, essentially because there was insufficient new evidence since the previous review in 2018.
My right hon. Friend pointed to the experience of other countries. I agree that we must look beyond our shores and learn lessons, but we must also acknowledge that there are different contexts in which heated tobacco products are used. For example, Japan has banned e-cigarettes, but it has introduced heated tobacco products, which have made an impact there. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has permitted the sale of heated tobacco products, but is yet to pronounce on whether Philip Morris International may make claims of reduced risk for its IQOS product. I believe, therefore, that we need to be cautious about assuming that heated tobacco products are likely to find a large market in the UK.
I recognise that more independent research on heated tobacco products would be helpful for understanding their relative risks. The Department and its arms’ length bodies will consider research proposals in this field, but at present none has been forthcoming. I need to be clear that such proposals would need to demonstrate good use of public money. We will continue to monitor the international evidence and develop our policy as such evidence develops.
There is a definite need for more research to be done on heated tobacco products. Only through proper, independent research can we draw different conclusions. However, my right hon. Friend has raised a very important issue about these products, which are helping certain people in this country and other jurisdictions to quit smoking. He has set me a challenge and I will certainly ask my officials to look closely at the issue.
It is important to remember that heated tobacco products are tobacco products, and we must apply suitable caution. Although switching from traditional cigarettes is likely to reduce risk, the best approach is to quit entirely. The Government remain committed to helping people quit smoking and promoting reduced-risk products where it makes sense for smokers. We will continue to be driven by the evidence.
Question put and agreed to.