North East cancer survivors in Parliament calling for Govt to do more to end smoking
TOBACCO is the UK’s biggest cause of cancer and half of North East adults don’t think enough is being done to reduce smoking. That is the message to the Government from smoking survivors Cathy Hunt and Sue Mountain at an event in Parliament.
Representatives from the North East are attending the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health to mark four years since the Government committed to make England ‘smokefree’ by 2030 as part of the Prevention Green Paper . The clock is running down with 7 years left to meet this ambition and smoking rates still at 13% – still at 14.8% in the North East.
Campaigners have welcomed a new ‘swap to stop’ scheme for 1 million vape kits to help adults to quit, a financial incentive scheme for pregnant smokers and inserts to promote quitting in cigarette packs – but warn these will not be enough to meet the Government’s 5% smoking target and fails to match strong public support for action.
The latest ASH Smokefree GB survey carried out by YouGov finds that 50% of adults in the North East think the Government is not doing enough to address smoking with only 7% saying they are ‘doing too much’. It also found for North East adults:
- 79% support a levy or fee on tobacco companies
- 69% support raising the age of sale to 21
- 86% support retailers to need a license to sell tobacco
- 69% support quitting pack inserts in cigarette packs
- 72% support increasing government investment in public education campaigns
Sue and Cathy are the faces of the Fresh “Smoking Survivors” TV campaign encouraging smokers to quit. The event will also be attended by Public Health Minister Neil O’Brien, Shadow Public Health Minister Andrew Gwynne and Dr Javed Khan OBE who launched the 2022 independent report “Making Smoking Obsolete”.
Former smoker and cancer survivor Sue Mountain, 57, from South Shields, has pleaded with the Government to do more to help end smoking and is speaking at the APPG on Smoking or Health event for the second time. Sue began smoking aged just 11 and underwent laser treatment in 2012 aged 48 when a biopsy revealed she had laryngeal cancer. The cancer returned in 2015 and then again in 2017 but she is now cancer free.
Sue said: “You lie to yourself and say you love smoking but you need the cigarette – that’s the addiction. Over the years I think I probably spent over £100,000 on cigarettes… I could have bought half a house with that or seen the world instead of getting cancer.
“Tobacco has killed nearly eight million people in the UK in the last 50 years. Why do we tolerate this? Why aren’t we doing more to stop people dying? It’s time tobacco companies were made to pay for more support for smokers and awareness campaigns encouraging people to stop.”
Cathy Hunt, 57, is a mum of four from County Durham. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and had half a lung removed in 2015 just two days before her 50th birthday. She underwent surgery again in 2022 when the cancer returned, and in June this year had a kidney removed due to cancer. Cathy is also a Conservative Councillor for Durham County Council. She is supporting calls for greater investment in public education campaigns and a levy on tobacco companies.
Cathy said: “Too many people are becoming ill and dying from smoking. Tobacco companies lied to people about low tars and they lured more women into smoking through glossy marketing and slims, which has resulted in more lung cancer and COPD, and people like myself who might have quit instead getting cancer. They wanted us to keep smoking and those diseases are still being seen in our hospital wards today.
“You hear the word cancer and the first thing I thought was “how do I tell my girls?” For me it was only when I found out I had cancer that I stopped smoking, and even then quitting was the best thing I could do. But this is exactly why you need those warnings and constant reminders on the TV…to stop more people getting that to that awful stage. It is so easy to put it to the back of your mind otherwise.
“I was 11 when I started smoking and most smokers begin as kids, long before you really understand addiction, or the risks. But tobacco companies understand the risks all too well. Tobacco companies are profiting and they should be sued and that money paid used for treatment and prevention.”
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “It is clear that action on smoking is not just needed but wanted. We need bold new measures to reduce smoking as one of the biggest pressures on communities, on local authorities, on our NHS and on our economy.
“Tobacco companies profit from the death and addiction and it is time they are held more accountable for the harm they cause.”
Dr Ruth Sharrock, Respiratory Consultant and Clinical Lead for Tobacco Dependency for the North East and North Cumbria NHS said: “Up to two out of every three long term smokers will die from smoking and every day on our wards I see the widespread, devastating effects. For regions like the North East higher smoking rates are still resulting in more cancers and respiratory diseases.
“Decade after decade we treat smoking-caused diseases, but we need to support smokers to stop and prevent people starting in the first place. No one wants their children to suffer from cancer or wake up gasping for breath. That’s why we need to create a smokefree future for the next generation and to stem the harm now.”
Amanda Healy, Director of Public Health for County Durham and Chair of the Association of Directors of Public Health North East, said: “Smoking has nearly halved since 2005 in the North East but that has only been due the concerted efforts of our local authorities and NHS to prioritise this in the North East.
“We are calling on the Government to take bold new steps to reduce smoking further, provide support to quit, stop children from starting and curb the influence of tobacco companies. We need more funding for our life saving tobacco control work and it’s time we had a statutory levy on tobacco manufacturers so they are made to pay towards this.”
 ASH Public Opinion Survey. Full data available here