Charity concerned as Northern Ireland risks being left behind on public health

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK is deeply concerned that Northern Ireland may be left behind while the rest of the UK presses ahead with legislation on plain, standardised packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

"We are calling on the First Minister to put the health of the people of Northern Ireland first and act with urgency to pass this LCM." Harpal Kumar, chief executive.

If a legislative consent motion (LCM) is not passed before the completion of the passage of the Children and Families Bill through the House of Commons, Northern Ireland will not be able to join with any future UK-wide regulations to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products.

Health groups agree that the last chance to agree on the LCM could be this Wednesday, January 22.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We are calling on the First Minister to put the health of the people of Northern Ireland first and act with urgency to pass this LCM. Smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland is already four per cent higher than the UK average and failing to act now risks a gap in health inequalities growing in the coming years.”

Regardless of whether Northern Ireland pass the LCM, the rest of the UK will proceed. But if Northern Ireland delays and produces its own regulations at a later date they risk facing legal challenges alone from the tobacco industry.

There would also be major cross-border issues, since the Republic of Ireland is likely to pass legislation on the issue during 2014.

Smoking is an addiction that starts in childhood with seven in ten smokers starting before the age of 18, and has deadly consequences with one in two long term smokers dying of tobacco related diseases.

Harpal added: “Stripping tobacco packs of the bright colours and clever marketing gimmicks draws attention to the health warnings and reveals them as the deadly products they are. We believe standardised packaging is urgently needed to give children one less reason to start smoking.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

  1. On 28 November 2013, the UK Government announced that they would introduce an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, now being considered by the House of Lords, which would give the Secretary of State for Health the power to introduce Regulations on standardised packaging.  Health Minister Jane Ellison also announced a review of the public health evidence on standardised packaging, to be conducted by the eminent paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler and concluded by March 2014. On 28th May 2013, the Government of the Republic of Ireland announced that it would introduce legislation on standardised packaging in the 2014 legislative session. 
  2. Because health is a devolved matter, the UK Government is seeking the consent of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland for the amendment, which if given would mean that it would cover the whole UK. The usual procedure by which agreement can be expressed is called a Legislative Consent Motion. However, the UK Government amendment on standardised packaging has specific wording relating to Northern Ireland, requiring the UK Secretary of State for Health to: “obtain the consent of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety before making regulations under any of those subsections containing provision which would (if contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly) be within the legislative competence of that Assembly”. Marshalled list of amendments House of Lords Report Stage: Children and Families Bill: Amendment 57B
  3. The UK Cabinet Office guidance on legislation affecting Northern Ireland states that where the legislation deals with devolved matters, agreement should be “reached for the view of the Northern Ireland Assembly to the inclusion of any such provisions to be expressed before the final amending stage in the first House in the UK Parliament.” The final amending stage in the House of Lords, where the Children and Families Bill, will be Third Reading, likely to take place on 5th February. The final opportunity to amend the Bill would be when the Bill returns to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. Devolution Guidance Notice 8: Post Devolution Legislation Affecting Northern Ireland
  4. UK adult smoking prevalence 20%, adult smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland 24%. For the latest statistics on smoking rates in the UK see Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, Smoking habits amongst adults, 2012. ONS and for Northern Ireland see Continuous Household Survey (2009-10).
  5. “Tobacco control is central to any strategy to tackle health inequalities as smoking accounts for approximately half of the difference in life expectancy between the lowest and highest income groups. Smoking-related death rates are two to three times higher in low-income groups than in wealthier social groups.” Fair Society Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review; Strategic review of Health inequalities in England post-2010: p.145
  6. Tackling smoking is vital to tackling health inequalities, and the associated economic inequality which spending on tobacco products perpetuates. In Northern Ireland there is a significantly higher prevalence of smoking among children who receive free school meals for ‘ever smoking’ (26% vs 18%); current smoking (11% vs 8%) and regular smoking (10% vs 6%). The median age of children trying their first cigarette, among those receiving free school meals was 12 - among children not in receipt of free school meals it was 13 years (2010). The report concluded that: “Tobacco companies ‘win by volume’ by keeping the young and the poor in the market”. A Tobacco-Free Future – an all-island report on tobacco, inequalities and childhood (2013). Institute of Public Health in Ireland and Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland:  p.35
  7. Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments are strong supporters of standardised packaging. The Scottish Government has stated a clear intention to pursue standardised packs, saying that “the Scottish Government is determined to take forward this important public health measure”. The Welsh Assembly will move forward with their LCM on 21st January. The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee has agreed to put its Legislative Consent Motion to the full Parliament for approval.