Public Health Minister Steve Brine and Shadow Public Health Minister Sharon Hodgson discussed the work of Fresh during a debate to consider 70 years of the NHS and public health.
Smoking has fallen in the North East from 29% in 2005 to 17.2% in 2016, with the region also having the highest quit success rates over the past decade and largest fall in smoking during pregnancy, from 22.2% of women in 2009/10 down to 16% in 2016.
Mrs Hodgson, who is MP for Washington and Sunderland West, told Parliament: “In 1954, Sir Richard Doll, a British scientist, published a study in The British Medical Journal co-written with Sir Austin Bradford Hill, which established the link between smoking and lung cancer.
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"That very important study has since led to increased smoking cessation policies from successive Governments, including the ban on smoking in public spaces by the Labour Government in 2006 and the current Government’s — and the minister’s — tobacco control plan.
“Smoking prevalence is decreasing across the country, and I am pleased to say that smoking rates in the north-east are declining faster than the national average, thanks in no small part to support from programmes such as Fresh North East, which has seen around 165,000 people quit smoking since 2005.”
Mr Brine, who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care, replied: “The Government take the public health challenge we face incredibly seriously.
"We have responded by putting prevention at the heart of public policy making.
"We have taken quite stringent steps. As the shadow Minister said, we are a global leader on tobacco control.
"We were the first country in Europe to introduce legislation to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes, off the back of the smoking ban in public places.
"She rightly mentioned Fresh North East, which is a very good example — it is in many ways the apple of my eye in this policy area. I hope at some point, if the arithmetic in this place ever allows, to go and see it for myself.”
Ailsa Rutter OBE, director of Fresh, said: “It is vital that in the NHS’s 70th anniversary year we recognise the impact of smoking, killing 1 in 2 lifelong smokers and resulting in over half a million hospital admissions in England every year.
"The new Tobacco Control Plan is clear that the NHS can and should play a key role in prevention.
“Smoking is an issue that cuts across all political parties and persuasions, and we are pleased to see this recognition of work in the North East at the highest level.
"Our local authority partners particularly deserve praise for tackling the harm caused by tobacco as a key public health priority.
"A decade ago it would have been almost unthinkable to be getting close to halving smoking rates.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “Fresh deserves to be the apple of the Minister’s eye.
"Working with and for local authorities right across the North East it has succeeded in delivering highly cost-effective regional programmes which have driven down smoking prevalence faster than anywhere else in the country.
"Fresh is the model other regions should follow.”
George Butterworth, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “The North East has seen dramatic reductions in smoking rates over and above the national average due to the vital work of Fresh North East.
"This tried and tested approach should be adopted across England if we are to achieve a smokefree future for our children.”
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh was awarded the World Health Organisation's World No Tobacco Day medal in 2014 in recognition of outstanding work to tackle smoking in the North East and an OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours in 2017 for services to tobacco control.
In 2014 Fresh won an NHS Leadership Recognition Award for Outstanding Collaborative Leadership, which stated: “the Fresh team has worked with hundreds of local, regional and national partners.
"It has achieved through world-class programmes and developing passionate and committed leaders across various fields.”