HL Deb 23 January 1975 vol 356 cc220-3

3.23 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, in view of the 65th Report of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise that "despite the sluggish trend in the economy generally, domestic consumption of tobacco … continued to increase", whether they remain satisfied with their campaign to discourage smoking.


My Lords, although the consumption of tobacco increased in 1973–74 over the previous year, the weight of tobacco consumed in 1973–74 was still lower than ten years earlier. Furthermore, the weight of tobacco consumed in the first half of the current year 1974–75 was about 4 per cent. lower than in the corresponding period a year earlier. Nevertheless, I think that every one of your Lordships will agree that the serious risks to health of cigarette smoking continue to cause very grave concern.


My Lords, I am very much obliged. Whatever the precise figures, are the Government firmly resolved that any kind of rise in the domestic tobacco consumption is an absolute disgrace, and that this trend has to be reversed by intensifying the Government's campaign to discourage people from smoking?


My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister of State met representatives of the cigarette manufacturing industry last July and had a very full and frank discussion, from which has resulted a number of things. I think that the noble Lord and other Members of your Lordships' House will be interested to know that a further meeting with the industry has been arranged to take place early next month, and the subjects under discussion include smoking and health education, cigarette advertising in cinemas, the health warning notice on cigarette packets and advertisements generally, and gift coupon schemes and sports sponsorship. Perhaps I may add in relation to the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question that there is a great deal being done, as noble Lords will know, by the Health Education Council in this matter. We are not unmindful of what needs to be done.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, could my noble friend say what progress is being made in the manufacture of cigarettes which are less dangerous than the conventional type?


My Lords, the Hunter Committee is keeping under review research into less dangerous forms of smoking, including the development of tobacco substitutes. Since the testing of cigarettes for tar and nicotine yields began in July 1972, something in the region of a two milligramme drop in the average tar yield per cigarette smoked had been achieved by mid 1974.


My Lords, while not wishing to express any views on the personal habits of many of my friends, is it not nevertheless a principle in dealing with any addiction that it is not much use appealing to the addicts so long as the drug pushers go scot free?


My Lords, do I understand from my noble friend that he interprets the substance of this Question to be applicable solely and exclusively to cigarette smoking? Is he aware that if that is his interpretation I accept it wholeheartedly, but that if he refers to tobacco smoking as meaning smoking a pipe, any attempt to discourage it can only happen over my dead body?


My Lords, as my noble friend's Answer was intended to allay fear, is it not a fact that the incidence of cancer of the lung has increased among women?


My Lords, I am not in a position to say whether my noble friend is right, but knowing her I am sure that she is. Perhaps I ought to explain that in 1973 there were about half a million fewer cigarette smokers than in 1970. However, those who continued to smoke were smoking on the average about 20 cigarettes a week more in 1973 than they did in 1970. Figures for last year are not available.


My Lords, would it be possible for the Government to think again about the suggestion that I have made several times, that they should encourage local authorities—not force them—to prevent people from smoking in cinemas and other places of entertainment, and so conform with what is done in most civilised countries in the world?


My Lords, this factor is contantly borne in mind. There are an increasing number of public places where smoking is not now permitted, but perhaps I could again remind my honourable friend of what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, surely we should exonerate the National Health Council on this and blame the sluggish trend in the economy?


My Lords, would the noble Lord bear in mind that there is another aspect of this matter? If the acreage devoted in the world to growing tobacco could be devoted to growing food, there would be fewer people dying of starvation.


My Lords, would my noble friend accept that a certain age can be attained, say 90 or 95, at which tobacco smoking no longer constitutes a hazard?

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—and I have at last managed to get up—that about 27 minutes ago we were praying that we should lay aside all private prejudices? Is he aware also that the latter part of this Question would, if it was brought into fruition, take away from a great many of us one of the few pleasures left in this life?


My Lords, it is also true that Members of your Lordships' House are entitled to ask questions, and that is all that the noble Lord has done.