HC Deb 18 February 1997 vol 290 cc727-9
1. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what new initiatives he plans to take to draw attention to the damage to health caused by smoking [14727]

The Minister for Health (Mr. Gerald Malone)

Press, television and radio advertising are being used in support of a programme aimed at teenagers as well as the more general national smoking education campaign. Detailed arrangements for the final year of the campaign will be finalised shortly. Future activity will be developed in the light of the evaluation of the current campaigns.

Mr. Steen

Is my hon. Friend aware that non-smokers have absolutely no choice in public places but to inhale other people's smoke, whether in a railway coach or a restaurant? He might consider the Singapore experience, which has been very successful: little plastic see-through igloos are built in public places and are the sole place where smokers may smoke, and the public can look in and see who is puffing away.

Mr. Malone

Perhaps I can add to the list my hon. Friend gave of places where passive smoking is a problem the Strangers' Bar in this House, where otherwise politically correct Labour Members often inflict this problem on all of us. We will let that pass, however. The instance that my hon. Friend outlined has not been drawn to my attention before. While we are keen to reduce the incidence of passive smoking, my initial reaction is that I do not think that placing the public in the stocks as he suggests would be the best way forward.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister must be aware that the House would be a good place to introduce some pioneering activity in terms of non-smoking areas—sometimes the Palace seems to be suffused with smoke. Surely, both Members and staff could be educated a little better. On the more general point, there has been an interesting and encouraging decline in smoking, but in the last year of record, £69 million was spent on advertising tobacco alone. The advertisers are after young people and teenagers. They want to get them addicted early so that they will have them as slaves for the rest of their lives. When will the Government start to match that sort of advertising money?

Mr. Malone

If it is not the smokescreens put up by Opposition Members, it is when they are conflated with hot air that we occasionally have our greatest problems, and that is what the hon. Gentleman has done. The countries in the European Union that have been most successful in reducing smoking among their adult populations are the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where there is no ban on tobacco advertising—but we are supported by a voluntary arrangement. Other EU countries, where there is a ban, have not been nearly as successful as this country. Our principle of voluntary restraint is working, should be supported and should continue.

Dame Jill Knight

Is my hon. Friend aware that while most smokers are knowledgeable about the dangers that they face from lung cancer and other cancers, few are aware of the severe danger that they face when they have to have anaesthetics for an operation, which can happen to any of us at any time? When he is considering publicity on the matter, will he also stress that point?

Mr. Malone

My hon. Friend will know that, as research into such matters progresses, and as we develop both the voluntary code of conduct and the warnings that appear on cigarette packets and other forms of advertising, any lessons that can be learnt will be borne in mind. I shall take on board what she says. She underlines another point about not having a ban on advertising: it is important to draw warnings to the attention of the public in a consistent but evolving way, to fit the prevailing circumstances, and that can be done under a voluntary code of regulation through the advertising campaigns that are run in this country.

Mr. Barron

The Minister must know that the Government have failed to reach their "Health of the Nation" target and that teenage smoking has increased by 50 per cent. Why does he not take the obvious initiative and ban tobacco advertising? Will we have at the next general election the same situation as we had at the last, when a deal was done with Imperial Tobacco so that Tory posters replaced cigarette advertisements on billboards throughout the country? When the Royal College of Physicians tells us that, every day, 450 children start smoking, is not it time that the Conservatives put the health of the public before the health of their party?

Mr. Malone

What a lot of sanctimonious claptrap. The hon. Gentleman would do better to base his case on the facts rather than on that sort of argument. The facts are simply that all the research shows that the one sure way to discourage smoking is to increase the price of tobacco, which is what the Government have done through the tax system. Tobacco in this country is more expensive than in any of our European partner countries. That is the true way to ensure that there is a reduction in smoking.

The hon. Gentleman is keen to anticipate failure where none has occurred. There were four "Health of the Nation" targets set out for 2000; we are making sound and solid progress on three, and not as much progress as we would like on the fourth; but that makes us determined to redouble our efforts, rather than resort to the nonsense that the hon. Gentleman was talking about.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the huge amount of tax paid by smokers? As a non-smoker, I am delighted that they pay that tax, because otherwise I and others like me, who have never smoked, would be required to fill the gap in funding. One wonders where Opposition Members expect to find the funds.

Mr. Malone

My hon. Friend is right to say that smokers make an important contribution to revenue, but the Government's policy is underpinned by the fact that, while of course an increase in price raises extra revenue, it also fulfils the basic purpose of reducing tobacco consumption.

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