Credit: Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Yesterday, our chief executive, Harpal Kumar, spoke at the Parliamentary launch of Action on Smoking and Health’s (ASH) new report, Smoking Still Kills.

The report – part-funded by Cancer Research UK – sets out ambitious targets to reduce smoking rates in the UK. It also provides a range of recommendations for working with the Government and Local Authorities in order to put them into practice.

After Harpal’s speech, public health minister Jane Ellison MP signalled the Government’s commitment to developing a new five year tobacco control plan – one of the report’s core recommendations – which is a really encouraging sign.

Here is the text of Harpal’s speech:

In recent years, we have made significant steps forward in tobacco control, with the complete removal of point-of-sale tobacco displays and the approval of legislation for standardised packaging of tobacco products.

These are the latest milestones, in what has been a long journey for tobacco control. This success has been mirrored by the decline in cigarette smoking prevalence in England, from 21.4 per cent in 2010, to a record low 17.9 per cent in 2015.

However, we know that four in 10 cancers in the UK can be prevented, with tobacco use continuing to be the most important preventable cause. Quitting smoking is the single best thing an individual can do for their health; implementing a comprehensive tobacco control plan is the single best thing the country can do for public health.

Recognising this, in our new strategy, we have made a commitment to significantly increase our investment in tobacco control research, policy and advocacy work.

Cancer Research UK has a long track record in funding tobacco research, and of funding advocacy programmes, including our long-term funding for the excellent work ASH undertakes.

As our understanding of the health harms of tobacco use has evolved over the last 60 years, we have also seen the tobacco epidemic – like the industry that is its vector – expand globally. So, building on our success in the UK, we have recently committed £5 million to an International Consortium for Action and Research on Tobacco, working with other international funders such as the United States’ National Cancer Institute.

We have also increased our investment in harm reduction and e-cigarette-related research, and established the UK Electronic Cigarette Research Forum, in partnership with Public Health England, to provide independent assessment of the evidence relating to electronic cigarettes.

Investing in Research

Harpal delivering his speech

Harpal delivering his speech Credit: Nicolas Chinardet

We believe that continued investment in research is essential to underpin an evidence-based approach to tobacco policy and practice.

And as we provide new investment and adapt to new challenges, we must also redouble our efforts to address established challenges, such as deep-rooted smoking-related health inequalities which exist across the UK.

One third of all cigarettes smoked in England are smoked by people with a mental health disorder, while smoking rates in the prison population are estimated to be at least eight in ten and as high as nine in ten among homeless people.

The long-term goal, as set out in the Smoking Still Kills report, must be to reduce smoking rates to five per cent or below in all socio-economic groups, and to tackle smoking rates in other communities who are disproportionately burdened by tobacco use.

To do this, we will need new approaches that target those communities with the highest smoking rates. These should include inventive health marketing campaigns, continued enforcement and supply controls to tackle the illicit trade, and ensuring we see investment in ‘gold standard’ smoking cessation services across the country.

Footing the Bill

We believe that the bill for this should be picked up by the tobacco companies themselves, who have been the architects of an epidemic which has had a devastating financial and social burden on this country, in addition to the almost overwhelming loss of life.

The continued profitability of the tobacco industry, and the harm caused by a product which kills up to two in three long-term smokers, are entirely inseparable.

It is projected that the NHS will face a funding gap of nearly £30 billion per year by 2020, with Local Authorities facing similar financial pressures. Comprehensive tobacco control measures can help reduce the burden on the system from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer in the short- and long-term.

Alongside my role as Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, in January I was honoured to have been invited to chair the Independent Cancer Taskforce, established to plot how England can best tackle the challenges that cancer will bring over the next five years. In its statement of intent the Taskforce outlined the opportunity to set an ambition for future reductions in smoking rates, showing a serious commitment to cancer prevention which will be prominent in the final strategy.

Any strategy to address cancer in this country must make prevention a priority, and tobacco a leading concern within that. The Smoking Still Kills report provides a blueprint for the Government to get serious on tackling tobacco over the next five years. And credit should be given to all those organisations and individuals who have been involved in its development.

The possibility of a tobacco-free future – once a distant island – has become our nearest shore. And to that effect Cancer Research UK is proud to be taking a lead in delivering the strategic investment which can realise that vision.

– Harpal

Image: via donshall/Flickr, used under CC-BY-ND 2.0