At a full meeting of South Tyneside Council, councillors were updated on tobacco control work in the borough and future plans to help residents kick the habit.
Councillors were asked to endorse various campaigns and the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on smoking – which aims to shape national tobacco control policy.
This includes actions needed to secure the Government’s goal of making England smoke-free by 2030 – defined as a 5% smoking prevalence across the population.
According to a report prepared for councillors, smoking “remains one of the largest drivers of inequality and ill health within South Tyneside.”
Local borough data shows there were 882 smoking-attributable deaths in over 35s between 2017 and 2019.
Despite the harm and inequality caused by smoking, progress has been made with smoking prevalence now statistically similar to the rest of England at 16.3% in 2019 – down from 18.8% in 2018 and 22.7% in 2011.
Elsewhere, smoking in pregnancy has been reduced to an ‘all-time low’ dropping from 25.9% in 2014/15 to 13.9% in 2019/20 – a feat which is partly linked to the council’s successful ‘smoking in pregnancy incentive scheme.’
South Tyneside’s stop smoking services are also performing well with the highest rate of quit dates set and confirmed four-week quits in the region in 2019/20.
However, council chiefs say “significant work” is needed to achieve national targets as the borough still has some of the highest smoking-attributable mortality rates and hospital admissions in the region.
At a full council meeting on October 21, councillors backed several recommendations to support the tobacco control agenda.
This included endorsing the national recommendations arising from the APPG report on smoking and supporting the development of a local action plan led by the South Tyneside Smoke-free Alliance in future.
Councillor Anne Hetherington, cabinet member for independence and wellbeing, told the meeting: “Endorsement of the [APPG] recommendations is the first step in the journey which will involve local action to implement the National Tobacco Control Plan, including tobacco regulatory activity.
“Such leadership sends a clear message to the government that if it is to achieve its ambition for a smoke-free 2030 and a levelling up of society, it will require bold action.
“The report outlines things to be included in the national tobacco plan, crucially this includes making tobacco companies pay to end the tobacco epidemic.”
While councillors unanimously backed the report and its recommendations councillor David Francis, Green Group leader, said the local authority could do more.
This included reassessing existing “indirect investments in the tobacco industry” linked to the council’s pension fund through “pooled funds it invests in.”
Cllr Francis added: “I appreciate that this is a small percentage of the overall investments and that the pension fund has a duty to get a good return for pension holders, but I do worry that that sends some mixed messages.
“If we’re wanting residents to quit smoking tobacco perhaps we need to quit investing in it too.”