HC Deb 03 December 2002 vol 395 cc741-3
5. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

If he will make a statement on further measures he proposes to combat smoking and tobacco use. [82620]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

The measures that we have so far taken have helped over 200,000 smokers to quit. We will now make available extra resources to advertise the dangers of smoking and to extend help for people who want to give up.

Andrew Mackinlay

Does the Secretary of State agree that the practise of smoking tobacco should be confined to consenting adults in private? Is it not time that he put pressure on his ministerial colleagues who are in charge of employment rights to protect, in particular, those people in the food and drink and entertainment industries, as well as others, who are obliged to endure and suffer the smoke of others? Will he ensure also that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Department for International Development are empowered to prevent British companies from trying to peddle that terrible drug among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world?

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Clearly, smoking is the principal avoidable cause of death in our country—it kills about 120,000 people a year and is responsible for one death in five, so action across the piece is necessary to reduce it. He raises in particular the issue of workplace smoking, which is a genuine problem, although he will be aware that the Health and Safety Executive has been considering it, as have we. In the meantime, we have been trying to persuade employers, through our local tobacco control alliances, to take action locally. We want to encourage more of them, especially in the restaurant and pub business, either to make their environment smoke free or to at least make it clear to consumers and workers where smoking is allowed. Many employers want to take such action. I agree that there is a lot more to do, but we are beginning to make real inroads into a real problem.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay)

Given that the Government's own figures show that more and more young people are smoking, will the Secretary of State explain why the Government yesterday tried to block new European Union measures that will ban cigarette company sponsorship of Formula 1 a year earlier than planned? It appears to many that they were trying to help their friends in Formula 1 at the expense of the public's health.

Mr. Milburn

I begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new post.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

He will be gone in two weeks.

Mr. Milburn

I am getting some advice. Sometimes it is worth taking, the hon. Gentleman will find, although not from his own side. He started with a slight factual error, if I may say so, on the proportion of young people who are smoking. He may know that figures published today from the general household survey show that in 1996 about 13 per cent. of 11 to 15-year-olds were regular smokers. That had fallen to 10 per cent. by last year. Clearly, however, a lot more needs to be done to combat smoking, particularly among girls.

Yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there was a European Council of Ministers in Brussels to discuss the draft tobacco directive. The case argued by the hon. Gentleman is not the case that I put. There were two problems with the Commission's tobacco directive. It was not strong enough, and it was not clear enough. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have tobacco-advertising legislation in our country—opposed, incidentally, by his party—which is all about banning not just tobacco advertising but tobacco promotion. As for the question of clarity, one thing I have learnt over the last five or six years is that the tobacco industry will be relentless in delaying and preventing any measures that are necessary to protect the public.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to a reduction in smoking, and his work in making nicotine replacement therapy available to all NHS patients. That was a wonderful move. May I remind him, however, that 400 pupils are still dying every day in this country from tobacco-related diseases? The industry therefore needs to recruit 400 more young people a day, particularly teenagers, to this dreadful habit. What can my right hon. Friend do, in addition to what he is already doing, to discourage people from taking it up in the first place?

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is right, and he speaks with some clinical experience and expertise. Four steps are necessary. First, we are now enacting the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill. From next spring, all tobacco advertising on hoardings and in the media will be banned, because we know that it is the recruiting sergeant for young people in particular. Secondly, from next year there will be stronger health warnings on cigarette packets, and misleading doublespeak from the industry about certain products being "light" or "mild" will go. The strengthened health warnings will include warnings about the link between tobacco consumption and impotence. Thirdly, for the first time the Government will publish a list of the additives that go into every brand of cigarette, including everything from solvents to sweeteners. Fourthly and perhaps most important, in conjunction with the British Heart Foundation and the Cancer Research UK campaign, we will launch a £15 million advertising campaign pointing out the dangers of smoking.

I think that those measures, together with the help we are already giving to the seven out of 10 smokers who say they want to quit, will make a real difference and, most important, will save lives.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome that news, but the Secretary of State expressed concern about the European directive. What action have he and the Government taken to put pressure on the European Community to stop subsidising the growth in tobacco exports from Greece—and in our own exports, which are adding to the plight of the developing world?

Mr. Milburn

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point, which I should have made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate).

The British Government at all levels continue to raise, in our discussions in Europe, the issue of subsidies for the tobacco industry, which must stop. As my hon. Friend said, they produce a product which, although legal, kills 120,000 of its consumers every year. It is therefore no surprise that the industry must recruit extra smokers. Eighty-three per cent. of smokers began smoking before they were 20. The industry claims that its advertising is not aimed at children and teenagers, but that is simply wrong. We know from evidence that the vast majority of brands most smoked by children are the most advertised. That is why we were right to introduce tough new anti-tobacco-advertising legislation.