In an adjournment debate in the House of Commons last week, I called on the Government to hold a vote on introducing plain cigarette packaging regulations before the end of this Parliament. I was delighted that a little over an hour of debate resulted in a pledge from Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Undersecretary in the Department of Health, to bring the necessary regulations in front of the House before the election in May.
Plain packaging works. Too many people suffer from diseases brought on by smoking, and too many young people are picking up the habit for the issue to be ignored until after the election - sadly my own city, Glasgow has one of the worst records for smoking related premature deaths in the country. According to the latest Scottish Public Health Observatory's tobacco control profile, there were over 1,900 deaths from lung cancer in 2012 alone and almost 47,000 smoking-attributable hospital admissions over that year. Almost 28% of the city's population smokes against the Scottish national average of 23%. Even a small percentage drop in those figures would make a really big difference to a lot of people, save lives and alleviate the pressure on our health services.
In Australia, where plain packaging legislation was introduced in 2012 and generic packaging before that, smoking rates have fallen dramatically. Daily smoking levels are at a historic low of 12.8%, and the average number of cigarettes smoked is now just 96 per week compared to 111 in 2010. Fewer young people are trying cigarettes in Australia, and those who still do are older than in the past. Opposition to plain packaging among the public also fell steeply after it became law. I hope we will see the same trend in the UK.
After a U-turn on plain packaging in 2012, I am very pleased that the Prime Minister is heeding the advice of health professionals, 4000 of whom signed an open letter to the Guardian demanding urgent action, and ignoring the protestations of his Australian spin doctor Lynton Crosby, whose tobacco-industry links are said to have scuppered the Coalition's push for plain packaging earlier in this Parliament.
With the big tobacco companies so focussed on attracting young smokers through pack design, plain packaging is a key step for any country to introduce in the battle to lessen the consequences of smoking to the health service and society in general. Too many people are needlessly dying prematurely because of smoking and too many young people are still being hooked - let's use the next few weeks to save lives and reduce the burden on our NHS.