HC Deb 10 April 2001 vol 366 cc842-3
8. Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

What progress is being made in preventing young people from taking up smoking. [156290]

The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper)

The most recent evidence shows that smoking rates among children aged from 11 to 15 fell from 13 per cent. in 1996 to 9 per cent. in 1999, while adult smoking levels also fell. However, smoking rates among 16 to 19-year-olds rose between 1992 and 1998. That is why the Government have put in place a broad strategy to cut deaths from smoking, including the banning of tobacco advertising, which has a significant impact on smoking among children and young people.

Mr. Taylor

In the next 24 hours, 500 British teenagers will, on average, take a decade off their lives by taking up smoking. Is my hon Friend convinced that we can reduce that dreadful toll by hitting the targets set out in the 1998 White Paper, "Smoking Kills"? Will she introduce a national scheme to provide children with proof-of-age cards, which have been successful in parts of Leicestershire and elsewhere in reducing under-age tobacco sales? Will she read the Hansard record for 24 April, when my ten-minute Bill will be debated, and take the opportunity to review those topics?

Yvette Cooper

My hon. Friend is right that smoking has a huge impact on health. We have already made progress on under-16s, but we have considerably more to do. He mentioned proof-of-age cards, which can play an important part in enforcement strategies to cut under-age sales. We are keen to encourage the sort of programme that has been initiated in Leicestershire, and we shall consider his proposals in detail.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Given the appalling increase since the Government came to power in the number of teenagers who smoke illegally imported tobacco, is not it one of the worst cases of Government mismanagement that they increase taxes on tobacco while failing to increase the services and Customs and Excise men to stop the smuggling? It is their fault that these teenagers are now smoking illegal cigarettes.

Yvette Cooper

I must point out that smuggling is a serious problem not only in this country, but in Italy, which has low duty rates. Smuggling is a problem of organised crime and not of duty rates. That is exactly why the Government are investing more than £200 million over three years in tackling smuggling. The hon. Gentleman's party has not pledged to match that investment. The Conservatives may have made commitments in respect of investing in the health service, but I should point out that, unless they can match our investment in tackling smuggling, as well as in personal social services, they will not have the impact on health and on saving lives that is needed.

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