HC Deb 22 February 1994 vol 238 cc135-6
4. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made in the last five years in reducing the number of people who smoke.

Dr. Mawhinney

Figures on adult smoking prevalence in England are taken from the general household survey, which is conducted every two years. In the four years to 1992, adult smoking prevalence fell by 3 per cent. to 28 per cent. of the population.

Mr. Coombs

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's explanation of the downward trend in the general level of smoking in the population, I must point out to him that there is currently a worrying upward trend in the number of young girls in this country smoking. Bearing in mind the risks of smoking to women during pregnancy, what other measures can he introduce—apart from increases in taxation, which I welcome, and which are in stark contrast with the policy of the last Labour Government—to try to counter that extremely damaging trend?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the damaging effects that smoking can have on pregnant women and also on the children born from those pregnancies. In addition to the information that we have recently made available to all hon. Members, he will be interested to know that in the 11 to 15 age group those children whose parents do not smoke have already met our "Health of the Nation" target for the end of 1994. The problem is associated with children whose parents smoke, and they are not responding as we would wish. That underlines the serious messages coming from Conservative Members about the attitude and behaviour of parents on the behaviour of their children.

Mr. McCartney

Since the beginning of Question Time, four of our fellow citizens have died of tobacco-related cancers. When will the Secretary of State and the Minister commit themselves to supporting the Tobacco Advertising Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), getting the tobacco industry off the Government's back and saving the lives of the 300 babies a year who are killed by passive smoking, the 300 citizens a day who die because of the tobacco industry and the 110,000 people a year who are killed unnecessarily by the industry's activities? When will the Government support the nation, and end the industry's campaign to recruit new smokers each and every day because tobacco is killing its own customers?

Dr. Mawhinney

I must say that the hon. Gentleman put the case better on Second Reading of the Tobacco Advertising Bill. The truth is that both Government and Opposition are committed to reducing tobacco consumption, and the Bill's passage will proceed in the normal way.

The House may find one piece of information encouraging. If the other 10 European Union countries—apart from the Netherlands, which has a slightly better record of tobacco reduction over the past 20 years—had behaved as we have over that period, between 25 million and 30 million smokers would not now be smoking, and more than 5 million people who have died prematurely in those countries would not have died if they had followed our lead.

Mr. David Atkinson

Now that coroners can cite smoking as the cause of death, has the Department considered including the statistics in Government health warnings on tobacco products and in advertisements?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion, which I shall seriously consider.