HC Deb 23 November 1964 vol 702 cc900-1
12. Mr. John Hall

asked the Minister of Health if, in view of the fact that many countries with a much higher consumption of cigarette and tobacco per adult have an appreciably lower rate of deaths from lung cancer than is the case in England and Wales, he is satisfied that sufficient research is being undertaken into the effect on health of the increased air contamination caused by diesel fumes and sulphur dioxide; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Robinson

A great deal of research has and is being done and I do not know of any promising line of investigation which is not being pursued. I am advised that there is so far no evidence that either diesel fumes or sulphur dioxide are an important cause of lung cancer; but there is overwhelming evidence that cigarette smoking is.

Mr. Hall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many countries where the consumption of cigarettes per adult is far greater than in this country the number of deaths from lung cancer is far less? Does this not indicate that, although smoking may be one of the causes of lung cancer, air pollution, especially in heavily industrialised and heavily populated countries, must be a very considerable factor? Will he look into the matter again?

Mr. Robinson

The matter is being looked into. There is research bearing on this subject being undertaken at the Medical Research Council's air pollution research unit and at many other research establishments. There are various possible explanations for variations between countries, such as differences in the age structure of the population and in the standards of medical diagnosis and variations in smoking habits and types of tobacco smoked.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is it not an undeniable fact that lung cancer figures are always much higher in urban areas? Will the right hon. Gentleman urge on research in this direction because the great weight of medical opinion is that diesel fumes are responsible for lung cancer?

Mr. Robinson

As I thought I had made clear, nothing is holding up research in this respect. But I do not think that any fears about diesel fumes ought to inhibit our campaign to limit cigarette smoking.

Mr. Hogg

As this is the first case in which a Question about medical research has been answered by the right hon. Gentleman's Department rather than by the Department responsible for the Medical Research Council, does this indicate any change of responsibility from what has previously existed?

Mr. Robinson

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will answer for the Medical Research Council. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have noticed, the Medical Research Council did not come into my original reply: it came into my supplementary answer only.

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