Prime Minister Rishi Sunak focused on preventative healthcare in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference this week, announcing his intention to raise the smoking age by one year every year, and to bring forward measures to restrict the availability of vapes to children.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) Steve Brine, along with community pharmacy leaders, expressed support for moves to cut smoking.
But Mr Brine cautioned that the plans could have ‘unintended consequences’, such as a black market for vapes, and called for more support to help existing smokers quit.
In his speech this week, Mr Sunak said that more preventative care was needed to ‘ease the more fundamental burden of demand on the NHS’ and to ‘stop people having to go to hospital in the first place’.
He said: ‘We must tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill-health, disability, and death and that is smoking.’
The Prime Minister proposed that in future the smoking age is raised by one year, every year, and said he would ‘bring forward measures to restrict the availability of vapes’ to children, including by looking at flavours, packaging, displays and disposable vapes.
Former pharmacy minister and Conservative MP for Winchester Mr Brine said that he was ‘fully supportive of moves toward a smoke-free generation’.
He said that the measure would ‘save tens of thousands of lives given that smoking remains the biggest preventable killer in our country today’.
‘However, increasing the legal age to purchase cigarettes year on year will not help the people who are addicted today, and I urge the government to strengthen further tobacco control policies to tackle the levels of smoking which remains one of the largest causes of health disparities and preventable ill health,’ Mr Brine said in a statement following the conference.
He reiterated calls for the government and the vaping industry to ‘take decisive action to protect children from the harmful effects of vaping’, including ‘tougher restrictions on packaging and the marketing of vapes in line with those that already apply to tobacco products’.
Mr Brine, who has recently been leading an inquiry focused on vaping, added that a careful and evidence-based approach to vaping was needed.
‘We have heard compelling evidence about the benefits of vaping for smokers who want to quit or who want a cheaper alternative to tobacco,’ he said.
‘We need to think very carefully and follow the evidence about the role vaping, including non-disposable vapes, play in giving adults a pathway out of smoking tobacco products.’
‘I would urge ministers to mitigate for any unintended consequences before any changes are to be introduced,’ he said.
In addition, he warned that ‘any measures that led to a growth of the black market of illegal vapes would be worrying’, especially given ‘alarming evidence’ about hazardous chemicals contained in some vapes.
Tase Oputu, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) England board chair told The Pharmacist: ‘Encouraging more people to quit smoking is one of the most important interventions that we can make to improve public health.
‘Pharmacists and pharmacy teams are well placed to offer first point of contact help to people who want to quit but need to be fully supported to provide these services.’
Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that it welcomed ‘any evidence-based efforts to help smokers quit smoking’, given its ‘unarguable’ serious effects on health.
She added that the NPA had been calling for nationwide NHS smoking cessation provision through community pharmacies for many years.
Ms Mangion called for more research on the long-term effects of vaping, but said that some pharmacies did now stock e-cigarettes, as they can be part of the quitting journey for some smokers.
‘Unlike corner shops and specialist vape stores, pharmacies are regulated by healthcare agencies and staff are qualified to give advice on all aspects of smoking related health, as well as identify additional health care needs,’ she said.
In June, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested that managing the sale of e-cigarettes through community pharmacies could have prevented soaring levels of vaping among children.
But representatives of the UK vaping industry told the HSCC in July that it was important to have vapes available alongside tobacco products.