HL Deb 16 July 1963 vol 252 cc109-14

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the approximate rate of increase in the last forty years of cigarette smoking and of lung cancer respectively, and what steps are being taken to help the public to realise the danger involved in this form of smoking.]


My Lords, between 1920 and 1962 sales of cigarettes in the United Kingdom rose from about 36,000 million to about 110,000 million. Deaths assigned to lung cancer in Great Britain rose from 592 to 26,383. Some part of this increase may be due to more accurate diagnosis. Noble Lords will realise that lung cancer deaths in a particular year are related to the rate of consumption of cigarettes during a period of many years preceding it. Deaths from lung cancer are now running at the rate of about 500 a week, or one every 20 minutes.

In order to keep the public constantly aware of the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and other diseases, and to discourage children and young people from starting to smoke, campaigns of health education are being conducted by local authorities, with the encouragement and help of Her Majesty's Government, who are supplying a large range of publicity material.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for the interesting information he has given us. May I ask whether among the information being given to the local authorities for the purpose he has mentioned there is included a pamphlet recently published by the Chelsea Borough Council, which probably he will agree with me in thinking is an excellent one?


My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that the pamphlet recently produced by the Chelsea Borough Council is a most excellent one. I understand they have distributed it to every household in their borough. So far as I am aware, we have not distributed it ourselves; it is not our publication. But I am grateful to my noble friend for giving this booklet the publicity he has, and I have no doubt that if other local authorities want copies that can be arranged.


My Lords, as this campaign seems to have had little effect on middle-aged tobacco addicts, can the noble Lord say precisely what is done in schools?—because in my opinion the most effective thing would be to bring this matter home to school children. Could we be told in detail how the sixth forms of the country are handled in this matter?


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that the important thing is that this form of health education, which it is, should be directed mainly at the young to prevent them from starting to smoke cigarettes. I cannot tell her exactly what is done by schools to interest sixth forms particularly, but I can say that over one million posters have been distributed by us free of charge to local authorities, Government Departments and others, for display in schools, clinics, youth clubs and such places. Our film, Smoking and You, which was released in the second half of April, has already had hundreds of showings to audiences totalling about 30,000, mostly in schools. The three mobile vans presented by Her Majesty's Government to the Central Council for Health Education are booked up, in two cases until June, 1964, and in the third case until the end of this year. Approximately 200 local authorities have requested visits.

As regards what the noble Baroness said earlier about the effect of the campaign on what she called the middle-aged addict, I am not in a position at the moment to say what effect the campaign has had, but we are in the process of collecting reports from local education and local health authorities on their campaigns, and the Central Office of Information has started a series of social surveys to assess the effects of the campaign.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give similar figures for the decline in the incidence of tuberculosis for the same period?


No, my Lords, not without notice.


My Lords, does the noble Lord know that a great many other things have increased in exactly the same proportion, or in some cases in a greater proportion, during those years—betting, crime and all sorts of other things—and does he understand that statistics really cannot be used in this way?


My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend about that at all. I would say that the other things he listed as having increased in recent years do not cause lung cancer.


My Lords, ought not the appeal to the middle-aged take the form of urging them to refrain from setting a bad example to their children? Whilst smoking is forbidden in schools but continues at home, there is always the tendency to want to break the rule as soon as school is left. Would it not be a good thing to bring into the propaganda this aspect of setting an example?


My Lords, I think my noble friend has set a good example by asking that question. I might tell him the example I set to my children is the one that he would consider good.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us whether there has been any change in the attitude of the advertising industry, which it will be within your Lordships' recollection refused to publish posters issued by the Ministry of Health on this matter, and which was the subject of a statement by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House some time ago?


My Lords, I should not like to answer that question without notice, but I suspect the answer would be in the negative.


My Lords, is the noble Lord quite sure that the three Government vans he is sending round are not emitting diesel fumes to add to the harmful effects?


My Lords, I deprecate all these veiled attempts by noble Lords to try to throw doubt on this causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. I am not for a moment saying that there are not other causes of lung cancer, but I stand by the opinion of the Royal College of Physicians, that smoking, and particuarly cigarette smoking, is the most likely cause of all of the very sharp increase in lung cancer deaths we have seen in this country in recent years.


My Lords, why does the Royal College of Physicians try to give the impression that every statistical record of death by lung cancer is effected by cigarette smoking where those concerned are known to have smoked cigarettes? Where is the medical proof that a particular person died from lung cancer because he was a cigarette smoker?


My Lords, I am not here to answer for the medical profession. All I am doing is retailing to your Lordships, as has been done many times before, what is the considered opinion of the Royal College of Physicians, and I am not concerned to dispute it. All I would say in reply to the noble Earl is that the nature of the relationship between the drug thalidomide and its effects is also unknown, but I do not think anyone would doubt that this relationship does exist.


My Lords, would it be contrary to Government policy to allow the public some freedom of choice?


My Lords, the noble Earl must know perfectly well that the public have complete freedom of choice to smoke or not as they think fit. All I am hoping is that they will not think fit to use their freedom of choice in this way.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give the House his assurance that Her Majesty's Government are as interested in the emission of obnoxious smoke from diesel engines and the automobile as they are in this popularity-catching campaign against cigarette smoking? I do not uphold cigarette smoking, but we in this House have for years been speaking against the obnoxious fumes from diesel engines and other exhaust gases, and nothing of any substance has been done.


My Lords, that may be so; but I do not think that question arises from the original Question on the Order Paper. Even if it did, it would not fall to be answered by me.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that, while heavy spirit drinking does not necessarily always cause cirrhosis of the liver, nevertheless heavy spirit drinking does not promote good health?


That also is another matter.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord say that it is the case, after a slight fall in the sale of cigarettes, that the number of them now being sold is even larger and that this is the result of this advertising and discussion about cigarette smoking and the desire for freedom in the matter?


I do not know about that. I think that no doubt it is a possible explanation.


My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that his publicity material is being uses in the right places? Surely, it is imperative that the dangers of cigarette smoking should be given prominence equal to its attractions; and surely the Government might consider applying sufficient of their revenue from the tobacco tax to put themselves in the position to advertise the dangers of cigarette smoking alongside the advertisements for cigarettes in newspapers, magazines, on hoardings and on television programmes.


My Lords, I doubt whether it would be appropriate at the moment to go quite so far as that. We are aiming our campaign at the young, in places such as schools and in the local health authority clinics where mothers take their children, and where local authorities can exhibit our posters whereas commercial interests cannot advertise theirs. I think we have to see how this goes. That is why the Central Office of Information is embarking upon a series of social surveys. But I can tell your Lordships that, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, this campaign will go on and on, however long the process may be.


My Lords, may we take it that if we confine ourselves to smoking pipes and, when we can manage them, cigars, which are the nicest of the lot, we are all right: that we should keep clear of cigarettes?


My Lords, the noble Lord can smoke what he likes, but I am not going to be drawn into expressing a professional opinion. The noble Lord had better read again, if he has not already done so, the report of the Royal College of Physicians. So far as I am concerned, the advice I ought to give to your Lordships is that it is better not to smoke anything.

Back to