HC Deb 30 June 1998 vol 315 cc135-6
4. Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)

What initiatives he is bringing forward to reduce the incidence of teenage smoking. [46604]

The Minister for Public Health (Ms Tessa Jowell)

The Government's strategy on smoking, including plans to reduce smoking among young people, will be set out in detail in the tobacco control White Paper to be published later this year.

Mrs. Heal

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to protect our children and young people from the dangers of smoking, we must try a variety of methods, including controlling access to cigarettes and a ban on tobacco advertising? I hope that she will join me in congratulating Sandwell health authority and trading standards officers, who have carried out a number of visits to traders to advise them of their obligations. They have also attempted some test purchases which, in some cases, have resulted in prosecutions and fines.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is also aware of the report that ASH—Action on Smoking and Health—published last week, exposing the activities of members of the tobacco industry who target children. One of the bosses, speaking of teenagers, said, "They got lips, we want them." Is it not shameful that the only contribution of the Conservative party has been to block a ban on tobacco advertising?

Ms Jowell

Yes, it is shameful; and yes, I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in commending the efforts of authorities such as Sandwell that are seeking to protect young people from the effects of tobacco. The figures speak for themselves: there are 160,000 more regular smokers among children between the ages of 11 and 15 than there were 10 years ago. Children smoke the most regularly advertised brands of cigarettes. At current rates, smoking will kill about 1 million of today's children in their middle years. That is why it was so important that the UK Government acted, where the previous Government had failed to act, to secure a European Union-wide ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco last week.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Does the Minister believe that the incidence of teenage smoking will be reduced by the publication by her Department—at public expense—of a glossy magazine about health targets, which contains no fewer than 32 photographs of herself? What is the justification for that extraordinary publication? Does she hope that it will distract youngsters from poster sites, or does she see herself as a ministerial nicotine patch?

I speak as a non-smoker who also believes in choice. Given that there is little or no evidence to suggest that teenagers are tempted to smoke by adverts, even if they are keen on racing cars, will the Minister accept that discipline by parents and schools, and education about the harmful effects of that self-polluting habit, are what is required? What is her budget for such health education, and how will she concentrate it on the young?

Ms Jowell

Yes, I agree that health education is important, and yes, I agree that parental dissuasion from smoking is also important, but it is absolutely clear that the rate at which young people smoke will not decrease unless we ban tobacco advertising. The Conservative party, when in government, steadfastly stood in the way of protecting children's health, by blocking the European ban on tobacco advertising.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Does the Minister agree that, if we are to tackle the scourge of the increase in teenage smoking, we must give young people good role models, not only to educate them on the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, but to present to them the fact that it is uncool to smoke? Unfortunately, many young people see cigarettes as a fashion accessory. Unless we tackle that aspect in our health education literature and promotions, we shall find it very difficult to reduce the incidence of teenage smoking.

Ms Jowell

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He has drawn attention to another reason why the Government must lead on a range of strategies in order to reduce smoking among children—but it is our intention to reduce smoking among children, and we shall deliver on it.