HC Deb 12 March 1996 vol 273 cc777-8
11. Ms Lynne

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the proportion of 15-year-old girls who smoke regularly. [18395]

Mr. Bowls

The survey conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys showed that, in 1994, 30 per cent. of 15-year-old girls reported that they smoked at least one cigarette a week.

Ms Lynne

One of the Government's reasons for not banning tobacco advertising is that it has little effect on young people taking up smoking, so why are the Government spending £800,000 on advertising smoking's dangers to teenagers? I know that that is a small amount of money, but if it has no effect, why bother to spend it?

Mr. Bowis

We do not say that advertising has no effect, which is why we have gone to great lengths to reach a voluntary agreement with the tobacco industry. That agreement has successfully reduced advertising at places where young people are. There has been a 70 per cent. cut in poster advertising. We have cut shop-front and bus advertising. There are controls on advertising within 200 m of a school and close to playgrounds. Price and example are the two key ways to stop young people smoking. The hon. Lady should recall that in Spain, where smoking is a major problem, the price of cigarettes is 56p a pack, but in this country it is £2.74 a pack. Since 1990, consumption of cigarettes here has decreased by 15 billion cigarettes a year. That is the way to success.

Mr. Sims

It is of course right for Ministers to encourage a healthy life style, as my hon. Friends have been doing this afternoon, but is it not also their duty to discourage people, especially young people, from smoking? My hon. Friend has enumerated a number of factors, but there is ample evidence that advertising is also a factor. Why do the Government resolutely set their face against the advice that they have received to impose a ban on tobacco product advertising?

Mr. Bowis

My hon. Friend is right in saying that we must go on seeking to influence young people, but the evidence that we have received is that a total ban on advertising would not be effective. The voluntary 'route that we and the Netherlands have followed is effective. We have had clear evidence that we need to go on educating young people about tobacco, keeping the price up, and encouraging parents and others to stop smoking, because smoking parents often lead to smoking children. That is the purpose of our campaigns, which have led to decreases in the number of people who smoke. Whereas in 1974, 45 per cent. of people smoked, in 1992 that figure had fallen to 28 per cent.

Mr. Miller

If the Minister is serious about this, why is it that prescription charges, for medicines that people need, have gone up faster than cigarette prices, for drugs that people do not need?

Mr. Bowis

That is a totally different question. We have one question about people who can afford to pay contributing to the cost of their medication—with, as we have heard, a colossal exemption in this country for people who cannot afford to—and another about ways of encouraging people not to smoke because it can harm their health. The price of cigarettes and the example set by parents, older brothers and sisters and other role models are crucial in winning that battle.