HC Deb 18 July 1995 vol 263 cc1440-1
7. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action his Department is taking to reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking among young people; and if he will make a statement. [33215]

Mr. Sackville

Action is being taken across government to reduce smoking among young people.

Mr. MacShane

Is the Minister aware that for many people the quintessential image of life in Conservative Britain is a young school girl or school leaver with a fag drooping out of his or her mouth? Is he further aware that the incidence of smoking among school girls is on the increase and that the money allocated to campaign against it has been cut by half in the past 12 months? Is not the fundamental problem that the Conservative Government take any money in any form from tobacco companies rather than legislate in advertising or any other sphere to put the health of our young people first?

Mr. Sackville

A Government who increase by a huge figure the taxation on tobacco in every Budget are hardly trying to encourage tobacco producers or the use of their product. The hon. Gentleman thinks that he is a good European. He may like to ask his friends in Brussels why they continue to pay £1 billion a year for the production of tobacco in southern Europe, and why at least one European country taxes tobacco so low that cigarettes are sold at a fifth of the level in this country. He might like to consider whether behind his question and his new-found interest is a certain whiff of Euro-hypocrisy.

Mrs. Lait

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the reasons why there has been an increase in smoking among young people is the prevalence of cheap, smuggled tobacco? What is he doing in the Council of Health Ministers to raise public awareness of that issue in the other European countries?

Mr. Sackville

We are doing everything possible to persuade our European partners, in the spirit of harmonisation, to increase their taxation on tobacco. Of the major countries, we are by far the largest taxer of tobacco. I agree with my hon. Friend that just as it is very difficult to persuade young people not to do things on the ground that it is bad for their health, it is also very difficult to persuade them not to buy cigarettes cheaply across the channel and bring them into this country.

Mr. Kirkwood

Is the Minister aware of the new moves being taken by the public health authorities in the United States to consider making tobacco and nicotine controlled substances under the dangerous drugs regime? Will he assure the House that the Department of Health will watch carefully what is happening in that regard? Would not the most effective way of dealing with smoking in young people be for the new ministerial team simply to ban the advertising of cigarettes available to young people?

Mr. Sackville

Having brought the accursed habit of smoking from the American colonies originally, perhaps we can learn some lessons from them on how to reduce consumption here.