Today Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson gave evidence to the Health Select Committee on health inequalities. He frequently mentioned smoking and tobacco to illustrate his points and correctly identified smoking as the major cause of health inequalities. A number of specific areas in relation to tobacco control were picked up on:
There was a discussion of current quit targets and whether the current 4 week quit target is adequate. Johnson supported the 4 week target saying it was sufficient to predict future behaviour and the burden for extending the data to cover 6 months could be too onerous. The DH Permanent Secretary, Hugh Taylor, agreed that 6 months quit data would not add significant value to the 4 week data and that a more important priority was reliable local prevalence data. It was agreed that the DH would report back to the committee on the evidence base for 4 week quit targets over 6 month quit targets.
Revision of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) for GPs was raised. The Health Minister was asked whether consideration had been given to replacing the existing measure of recording a patient’s smoking status with a measure which recorded whether referrals had been made or suggested to specialist stop smoking services. Johnson said the committee had made a “powerful point” and that they were “looking at this specifically for our discussions on next year’s QOF”.
The committee asked whether the DH were looking at how better NRT products could be available to smokers to give them a stronger hit of nicotine which more closely resembles smoking. The committee suggested that this was something the pharmaceutical industry had concerns about due to the implications of individuals becoming addicted to pharmaceutical products. The Minister and the Permanent Secretary said this was not something they were aware of but they would look into it and share the information with the committee.
Smuggled tobacco was also mentioned with the Minister being asked if he supported cross departmental working and new targets for HMRC and the Boarders Agency. The Minister agreed that smuggling was an important issue and a priority and confirmed that departments were working closely together on this issue. He did not explicitly support new targets saying: “I’m not sure about whether a target would be helpful – its not within my gift.” He was also asked about discussions in relation to track and trace technologies and the Committee chair offered to share a paper with him on the subject.