HC Deb 09 July 1968 vol 768 cc217-22

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it illegal to sell packets of cigarettes which are not clearly marked with a warning of the health hazards consequent upon smoking, or which contain gift coupons. This is a Bill about health, and I wish to make clear at the outset, as I have done on other occasions, that it is not my purpose to be anti-smoking. If the tobacco industry can produce a cancer-free cigarette, I shall be delighted if all hon. Members smoke as frequently as they wish. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Pavitt

If cigars could be 10 a penny, if people would smoke pipes instead of cigarettes, I should be delighted. But I am much concerned by the growing incidence of death and illness—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members may themselves wish to bring in a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule one day. They must listen to the hon. Member who has the privilege today.

Mr. Pavitt

I am increasingly concerned with the health hazards arising from cigarette smoking, and not only the cost to the nation in terms of health, but in economic terms. I tried to persuade my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to reduce the cost of cigars and the incidence of Customs Duty on pipe tobacco, at the expense of an increase on cigarettes but I had very little success. He took an attitude not unlike that of Pontius Pilate, saying that health was not his concern but revenue was, thus washing his hands of the whole project, or, in terms of the Old Testament, saying that finance is the only god and thou shalt have no other.

The hazard to health is twofold. To a striking degree lung cancer and coronary thrombosis are becoming the scourges of the 20th century. Lung cancer is now running at an epidemic rate. During Question Time today four people will have died of lung cancer, and on average 80 people die of lung cancer every day. If two sightseeing coaches crashed outside in Parliament Square, and 80 people died today, the nation would be appalled and something would be done. If it happened every day for a week, so that at the end of the week 560 people were dead, the nation's conscience would be startled and it would seek to do something. But because so many deaths occur as a result of carcinoma of the lung, each isolated from the other, we do not take as much interest as we should.

The fact that between 1962 and 1964 there was a 12 per cent. increase in deaths from this cause should excite the House to take positive action about it. What should stir us more than the death of the elderly, because at three score years and ten it does not much matter what one dies of—I can say that, not yet having reached that age—is the fact that this week 20 widows will be left with young children because young husbands have died of lung cancer. On average, three people under 45 and six under 50 die from it every day.

Those are just the lung cancer figures. Professor Richard Doll estimates that of the present deaths from coronary thrombosis 10,000 can be attributed to cigarette smoking, and that the death of 15,000 sufferers from the English disease, chronic bronchitis, probably would not occur but for heavy cigarette smoking.

Therefore, I seek to introduce a Bill to do two very simple things. The first is to put a warning on the side of the packet. I sought to do so in 1964, when I brought in a similar Bill. At that time legislation was before the United States Senate, and on 27th July, 1965, this became law in the United States. I have ascertained from the tobacco manufacturing and exporting companies in this country that they are, therefore, already producing cigarette packets for export to America with either a label on the side or a special stamp with this warning.

I am under no illusion that putting this little notice on the side of the packet will make all smokers suddenly throw away their cigarettes, but it could make it clear to the class of people we are anxious to affect, young people starting the habit, that the Government takes this seriously. It would be just as much an earnest of seriousness as the announcement by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), when he was Minister of Health, on 7th May, 1956, more than 12 years ago, declaring the Government's policy that they hoped to reduce the incidence of illness by reducing the amount of smoking.

Clause 1 is quite simple. It is a permissive Clause very much following Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968. It gives my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health carte blanche to do just what he likes in this respect consistent with the best medical advice. It leaves a wide discretion, and provides that it will be an offence for people to sell goods not properly labelled.

Clause 2 is a little more controversial in that it would exclude the promotion of cigarette smoking by means of gift coupons. In 1963, the industry spent£8.75 million on coupon schemes. In1964, this rose to£10.25 million and in1965, which was the year when television advertising of cigarettes was stopped, it went up to nearly£13 million. By 1966, this had nearly doubled to£24½million. I was told this morning by one well-known tobacco firm that the estimate of the value of coupons which it made last October now reaches£32 million a year.

This is promotion on a very heavy scale. I contend that young people, particularly those starting the habit of smoking and getting married and saving for their homes, might well be influenced to keep to the habit by the gift coupons scheme. I hope that the House will acquit me of trying to be a puritan. I think that the moral argument is entirely false. There is nothing good about smoking, and there is nothing bad about it. The only thing is that one is liable to die if one does it. [An HON. MEMBER: "And you die if you do not."] I do not agree with the priggish attitude of, "I do not smoke and, therefore, I am good". That is just as false as saying, "I am more manly and virile if you see me with a cigarette in my mouth".

I hope that the argument will never be based on the question whether smoking is good or bad. We are concerned that the Health Service should save the hundreds of beds occupied by people coughing their hearts up because of smoking, which is expensive to the Health Service, quite apart from having other economic consequences. I estimate that the cost to the nation is£400 million more than the amount of revenue to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from his tax on cigarette and other tobacco duties.

Not only for the health and happiness of families, but the nation's well-being, should the Bill be well received by the House. It will do a useful job in the progress towards a preventive health service.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I do not particularly have objection to the question of advice being put on the cigarette packet, but I have strong objection to the attempt of my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) to kill two birds with one stone; to his not dealing with the issue with which he claims to be dealing; and to his raising irrelevant facts.

My hon. Friend discussed at considerable length the lung cancer statistics, and he is quite correct on those statistics. Nobody has the slightest doubt about this, but he refrained from mentioning that the total sales of cigarettes have not been influenced by coupons. Sales are considerably influenced by the price of cigarettes, whether that is affected by an increase or reduction of taxation, or an increase in the manufacturer's price, which is a small part of the cost of cigarettes.

If my hon. Friend looks at the figures of total sales of cigarettes, he will see that coupons have not influenced them particularly. I am sure that my hon. Friend has studied the statistics and that, if he wishes to look at them in detail, he will see that is the case. Therefore, merely to ban coupons would not achieve the object which my hon. Friend has in mind, of reducing the sales of cigarettes. One should inquire why their banning has been raised. There are certain people in the tobacco industry who desire the banning of coupons.

My hon. Friend should realise that there is a little more in this than merely the question of health. He quoted the statistics of the increase in expenditure on coupons. I wonder whether he would care to relate them to the increases in sales of particular companies. I wonder whether he would care to point out that some of the smallest companies in the industry have expenditures almost as great as the largest and that, although they have such enormous expenditures, they happen to have unsuccessful advertising campaigns. It may well be that the coupons or advertising campaigns shift trade from one company to another, but that the unsuccessful companies do not wish the coupon sort of campaign to continue.

It is quite clear that the total sales of cigarettes have been unaffected, but there has been some shift from one company to another. It is only fair to point out that there is an intra-industry dispute which my hon. Friend has not seen fit to mention.

The point, above all, is that in all this discussion there is no mention of one considerable group of people—those who are dependent upon the industry. Were my hon. Friend's theory right, were it the case that banning coupons would reduce the sales of cigarettes, would it not be right that we should consider the people dependent on the industry? Some of my hon. Friends recently voted for the nationalisation of the steel industry. So did I. We all also voted for compensation for the shareholders in the steel industry at a level which I consider to be rather high. But nobody is suggesting that if these measures were effected any compensation should be paid to shareholders in this industry.

Finally—and I feel this more than most hon. Members perhaps, because I probably have more tobacco industry employees in my constituency than anybody else—nobody is suggesting any measure of compensation to a single employee of the industry who might lose his job. I do not think that my hon. Friend's Measure would have this result. But if he desires this result, is it not right that he should consider what would happen if his desires were fulfilled?

If, as a country, we are to say that for the sake of the health of the people cigarette advertising should be banned, or that there should be anti-advertising of cigarettes, which may be desirable from the point of view of the country, is it not desirable that we should do as we do with other things and say, "This is in the interests of society as a whole and the particular interests affected should be compensated"? Should not the employee in the industry be compensated? He did not enter it thinking that he would be dealing out, in the words of my hon. Friend, death and destruction. He is simply earning a living. Is it not reasonable that my hon. Friend should consider the possible results of his action? I hope that the House will.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Pavitt, Sir M. Stoddart-Scott, Mr. F. Noel-Baker, Dr. John Dunwoody, Dr. Summerskill, Dr. Miller, Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie, and Sir G. Nabarro.