With permission Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the publication of Sir Cyril Chantler’s report on the standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Smoking kills nearly 80,000 people each year in England alone. One out of two long-term smokers will die of a smoking-related disease and our cancer outcomes stubbornly lag behind much of Europe. Quite apart from the enormous pressure this creates on the NHS it is a cruel waste of human potential. Yet we know that the vast majority of smokers want to quit and even more tragically we also know that two thirds of smokers become addicted before they are 18. As a nation therefore we should consider every effective measure we can to stop children taking up smoking in the first place.
That is why, in November last year, I asked Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review as to whether or not the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco is likely to have an effect on public health, in particular in relation to children.
Sir Cyril has presented his Report to me and my Rt. Hon Friend, the Secretary of State, and we had the benefit of a personal briefing from Sir Cyril yesterday, in which he highlighted the key conclusions of his review.
Having reviewed Sir Cyril’s findings, I was keen to share this important report with the House without delay as I recognise the significant interest that many Members have shown in this issue. I have also placed copies in both House libraries.
The evidence has been examined, the arguments for and against have been thoroughly explored and their merit assessed by Sir Cyril and Sir Cyril visited Australia in the course of his report.
I asked in particular that the report focus on the potential for standardised packaging to have an impact on the health of children.
It is clear that smoking is a disease of adolescence and we know that across the UK, over 200,000 children aged between 11-15 start smoking every year. In other words, around 600 children start smoking in the UK every day.
Many of these children will grow up with a nicotine addiction that they will find extremely difficult to break. That is a tragedy for these young people, their families and for the public health of our nation. Sir Cyril points out that if this rate of smoking by children was reduced even by 2%, for example, it would mean that 4,000 fewer children taking up smoking each year.
Mr Speaker, Sir Cyril’s report makes a compelling case that if standardised packaging were introduced it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health and that these health benefits would include health benefits for children.
The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has read Sir Cyril’s report and sent me a letter with her initial views. Dame Sally said:
…the Chantler review only reinforces my beliefs of the public health gains to be achieved from standardised packaging…
I have placed copies of Dame Sally’s letter in the House libraries.
Importantly, Mr Speaker, the Report highlights that any such policy must be seen in the round, as part of a comprehensive policy of tobacco control measures. And that, Mr Speaker, is exactly how I see the potential for standardised packaging to work in this country.
In light of this report and the responses to the previous consultation in 2012 I am therefore currently minded to proceed with introducing regulations to provide for standardised packaging. However, before reaching a final decision and in order to ensure that that decision is properly and fully informed, I intend to publish the draft regulations, so that it is crystal clear what is intended, alongside a final, short consultation, in which I will ask, in particular, for views on anything new since the last full public consultation that is relevant to a final decision on this policy. I will announce the details about the content and timing of that very shortly but would invite those with an interest to start considering any responses they might wish to make now. The House will understand that I want to move forward as swiftly as possible.
Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the excellent job that Sir Cyril and his team have done, in preparing such a thorough analysis of the available evidence on standardised packaging of tobacco products. I believe the Report will be widely acknowledged, both for its forensic approach and its authoritative conclusions.
Mr Speaker. We want our nation’s children to grow up happy and healthy and free from the heavy burden of disease that tobacco brings. I commend this Statement and Sir Cyril’s report to the House.