HL Deb 12 May 1975 vol 360 cc564-94

4.35 p.m.

Baroness WHITE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what further steps they propose to take in view of the recently reported rejection by the cigarette manufacturing industry of five of the six specific proposals put to it by Dr. David Owen, MP, Minister of State for Health. concerning the advertising and promotion of cigarette sales. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I should like to express gratitude to the House for permitting it to be discussed today instead of on Wednesday. I recognise that this has caused certain inconvenience to some noble Lords interested in the matter. I was delighted to find that my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead had chosen this occasion on which to make his maiden speech. If I may be allowed to say so, he and i have been friends for a long time. He has had a very distinguished career in London local government and in other spheres, and I am sure we are all delighted that he should be with us in this House. I personally am extremely grateful and much touched that he should choose this occasion to make his maiden speech.

My Lords, the reason why I wish once more to raise the issue of the sale of cigarettes is because, as I indicate in the Question, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. David Owen, recently gave a very long Written Answer, reported in the House of Commons Hansard on 10th April, describing the outcome of his discussions with the cigarette manufacturing industry on tile subject of the advertising and promotion of cigarette sales. This round of talks between the Minister of State for Health and the industry started last July. Dr. Owen made a number of specific proposals designed to bring home to the public the very serious dangers to health involved in continuous cigarette smoking.

I recognise that it is not long since we had a debate in this House on alcoholism, and I suppose that some of your Lordships might regard alcoholism as a greater evil. I myself have no doubt that many people can regularly imbibe at any rate a moderate quantity of alcohol without too great a risk, but the trouble with cigarette smoking, and the difference between the two, is that even a moderate smoker can put himself at very great risk, particularly if he or she starts as a teenager and goes on throughout adult life. For most people the threshold of safety is much lower than they think, and so-called moderation does not necessarily save one. But people still do not realise this.

My Lords, there is a warning on every packet of cigarettes and on certain types of advertisement, but in my view far more effective are the programmes such as the recent one on Thames Television which I suppose some noble Lords will have seen, in which the Minister himself took part. That programme at least showed, in a way which the public could grasp, the acute personal tragedy which smoking can bring not only to the often unsuspecting person who coughs his life away, but also to those he leaves behind. The official estimate is that some 50,000 lives are prematurely terminated each year through heart disease, cancer and other lung conditions precipitated by cigarette smoking, not to mention the cost of bronchitis and other non-fatal illnesses, and the harm done to the child of the mother who smokes during pregnancy.

The medical evidence on all these fronts is mounting all the while. The present Minister has been trying for nearly a year to obtain certain voluntary undertakings from the industry, so far with only very limited success. I feel I must warn him. It is now nearly a decade since Mr. Kenneth Robinson, then Minister of Health, a man equally dedicated to health and equally convinced that the current level of smoking was against public policy, also had very long drawn-out negotiations with the tobacco industry. It is true that television advertising had been forbidden in the Television Act of 1964- and that is the only direct legislation we have on this matter. But one has only to look at a television screen any weekend, and most evenings to see how the industry gets around that one.

There is a Government health warning, to which I will come in a moment, but the widespread withdrawal of advertising which Mr. Robinson wanted to secure never came about. As Minister, on 23rd October 1967 he said: The Government decided to introduce legislation in due course to take powers to ban coupon gift schemes …to control or ban other promotional schemes, forbid or limit certain forms of cigarette advertising, and to limit expenditure on the advertising of cigarettes.—[Official Report, Commons; 23/10/67: cols. 1328/9.] This was in October 1967, and not long after, he was moved to another Ministerial post.

The industry is wealthy, powerful and has far greater staying power than any Minister or most Governments. The industry will no doubt try to string Dr. Owen along, as they did Mr. Robinson, playing for time, giving way a little here and there, but making certain that their main advertising and promotion position remains untouched. And, of course, in a way. one cannot blame them. It is the nature of the beast. Tobacco firms are like any other commercial undertakings, and are out to make the best profit they can. It is part of the system. It is because of this that I simply do not believe one can expect them voluntarily to give up their position. From their point of view, why should they? That is why those of us like the noble Lord, Lord Platt, who really know the medical dangers of cigarette smoking must insist that the Government should take action.

Of course, there is one way in which it might be done; Mr. Benn might have the tobacco industry on his little list, happily in one way, though being a Bristol M.P. I would suspect that he might be a little coy about it. But, short of that, it seems to me that certain other specific action is required. The official warning is by now, I believe, perhaps not valueless but nearly so. Dr. Owen has asked the industry to change it to the form of words which in future will appear on the Department's own posters and leaflets dealing with the tar and nicotine yields, and the words, as spelled out very plainly in the Hansard to which I referred, are as follows, in large capitals: DANGER: CIGARETTES CAUSE LUNG CANCER, BRONCHITIS, HEART DISEASE.

This, at least, is forthright and explicit. If the industry will not change voluntarily, I hope that steps will be taken to insist.

At present, there are the most elaborate rules governing type size and face, position and so on, but elaborate rules governing a warning which no longer carries punch and which any advertising manager worth his salt would have dropped long ago. I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell will be able to say something about that. The one proposal that Dr. Owen made which was positively accepted by the industry was that they would not advertise in cinema programmes when "U" films were being shown. Dr. Owen pointed out that children can legally watch "A" and "AA" films also.

I have a letter here from the Chairman of the Imperial Tobacco Company in which he said that his company was prepared to agree to this, if the rest of the industry would do likewise. But, my Lords, how long will that take, and why should Imperial Tobacco Company not go ahead straight away? Mr. Garrett also told me, and he has told the Minister, that, irrespective of action by other sections of the tobacco industry, his firm is prepared to remove their names and insignia from all racing cars under the sponsorship of its companies operating in the United Kingdom. These cars were one of the most blatant items in the Thames Television programme to which I recently referred. So, for what it is worth, this is at least one small step forward.

I have had a letter today from the Minister saying that, glad as he is to have received this intelligence, he has not yet officially had it confirmed. The Imperial Tobacco Company seemed a little aggrieved that their offer, which was conveyed a couple of days before the Written Answer, was not mentioned specifically, but, as the Minister points out in his letter to me, other firms have been making some counter-proposals and he did not feel that he could go into the details of one without going into the details of various others, none of which seems to be finally concluded.

That this step about the racing cars should have to be taken at all proves, of course, how little regard the industry has shown hitherto for its pledges to observe the spirit as well as the letter of such restrictions as have been in force so far. What depresses me, my Lords, is the double-think and double-talk which goes on.

The second voluntary Code in 1971, which followed the first voluntary Code in 1964, included the provision: The use in isolation of company names closely associated with that company's brands shall be deemed to be an advertisement for those brands and as such must comply with the articles of this Code. This would, of course, include the carrying of the warning. How, therefore, if this condition of that Code is being observed in the spirit as well as the letter, can banner posters, which appear regularly on television with the names Benson and Hedges, Rothmans, John Player, escape? They do so because those in authority in the companies blandly deny that the names—again I quote: …constitute a close association with the company's brands. My Lords, how mentally dishonest can one be?

There has been one recent development which in some ways I welcome, but in others, I must quite frankly say, I have doubts about, because I am afraid it might be used as yet another alibi. After more than 10 years of voluntary Codes which the industry itself has to supervise, and in response to strong external pressure, the Advertising Standards Authority, of which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is now chairman, has at least agreed to take over the supervision of cigarette advertising. It will be extremely interesting, to see how successfully it deals with it. But, my Lords, its remit is strictly confined, as I understand it. It does not cover sponsorship, coupon schemes, or cigar promotion, which is used extensively on television as a substitute for the forbidden cigarette advertising.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness allow me to intervene as she has referred to the Advertising Standards Authority. I think it is important that I should make it clear that what the Advertising Standards Authority undertook to do was to interpret the existing Code between the Department of Health and the Tobacco Advisory Committee. It is not prepared to say exactly what shall be advertised and what shall not, because it does not think that is its responsibility. Its responsibility, or the responsibility it took over, was to do what was not being done, and that was to interpret and enforce the advertising Code as it exists.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I had understood that there was a revision of the Code also in hand, but perhaps I am mistaken about that.


My Lords, the Code was being revised in order to put it in a form that was enforceable. It was too vague in its terms to be enforceable by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I am, of course, delighted to learn that the noble Lord will presumably now be taking a personal interest in this matter. I appreciate that the authority of this body is limited, but nevertheless it is, as I say, at least an interesting exercise to see how far interpretation is going to solve any of the problems which worry a great many of us.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness would forgive me again, perhaps I did not make myself quite clear. We have not yet got to the position where we have taken over enforcement of the Code. We are still in discussion with the Department of Health about it.

Baroness WHITE

Then, my Lords, I hope there will be a favourable outcome of those discussions, because I suppose that noble Lords in all parts of the House would agree that it is not really a very satisfactory state of affairs when the interpretation and operation of the Code seems to have been left solely in the hands of the industry. In my experience, the Department itself was not prepared, or was not in a position, either to interpret or to enforce the Code. The importance of this, of course, and of the areas which will not be covered even when the new system comes into effect, if it does, is indicated if one tries to look at the breakdown of promotional expenditure, which I think is very instructive. Apparently the industry does not supply the Government with figures, which again indicates a certain weakness, but the official estimates for 1974–75 are that about £15½ million was spent by cigarette manufacturers on Press, poster and cinema advertising, between £2 and £4 million on sponsor- ship, and more than £50 million on gift coupons.

The sponsorship, of course, covers a fantastic range of sporting and artistic events. I have the list here. Probably your Lordships know of it. The fact that admirable activities are supported should not blind one to the source from which the money comes. The entry on the scene (as I expect will happen) of the Advertising Standards Authority will, I fear—this is my personal opinion, and I have studied the matter for some years—be used by the industry as an excuse for postponing actions in other fields. They will say, with some justification I suppose, "Let us see how we get on with the Advertising Standards Authority ". But the other forms of promotion will be unchecked and unimpeded. Smokers already caught will be encouraged, particularly by the gift coupon schemes, to smoke more, or, if put off by the recent tax increases, as some of them appear to have been, to catch up again with their previous level.

Dr. Owen proposed that the gilt coupons should, at the least, be confined to low, or low to middle, tar yield brands, but this proposal was also rejected. At least, he was under the impression that it was rejected, although a letter from the Imperial Tobacco Company says that it was not rejected outright. It certainly has not been accepted. Such inducements linked directly with increased smoking should be abolished; but if the industry believes its own contention that the main purpose of advertising is to attract established smokers from one brand to another, surely it should welcome a step which could have considerable influence in persuading people to smoke cigarettes which are less harmful and have somewhat less damaging effects. What could be wrong with that? Is it that the low tar brands are less profitable? I do not know, but I should like to be told.

As in so many fields nowadays, other countries are moving faster than we are. From 1st July Norway will not only join the other 10 countries which have banned cigarette advertising altogether but insist on a 45-word health warning, in two places, on every packet. The industry, of course, constantly points to Italy, where there is a State tobacco manufacturing monopoly and where, on this account—and, so far as I know, with no thought of health hazards—advertising has been banned since 1962, with apparently very little effect. I think that anyone who studies it will appreciate that the position is quite different. Similar experience in Norway would be much more relevant to our situation here. Even if one banned advertising completely, it is very difficult to calculate but it is reckoned by those who have tried to study the matter that cigarette consumption would probably not drop by more than about 20 per cent., and that over a period of time, but it would at least help a new generation not to start.

Banning advertising, however, is negative, and with sales remaining legal—and no one contemplates anything else, for obvious reasons; none of us wants to be involved in the black market situation of Prohibition in the United States—one must have a positive effort on health education. This was made very plain in the Royal College of Physicians' Report of 1971, in which they said in paragraph 9.28: That a simple ban of cigarette advertising would be ineffective is also indicated by the example of countries such as Russia and Italy where there is no advertising of cigarettes and where consumption has steadily risen. Nevertheless, it is unwise to allow any form of promotion of a habit with such grave effects on health. The contribution to the cultural acceptability of the smoking habit conflicts with the credibility of public education about its dangers. Therefore, one has not only to try to ban cigarette advertisement but also to sustain health education.

Health education at national level last year cost around £330,000. This compares with tobacco advertising and promotion of some £70 million. One campaign alone for Marlboro cigarettes this year is said in the trade magazine Tobacco to be costing £1 million for one brand only. In view of the Treasury netting £1,400 million in tobacco duty last year, and more this year, it is perhaps quite understandable that the industry was reluctant to take up Dr. Owen's suggestion that they should contribute a substantial levy to the Health Education Council. But how much are they spending on research into less dangerous forms of smoking? Can my noble friend who is to reply to the Question tell us when the Hunter Report will be available? I am aware that my noble friend Lord Houghton is to speak on Wednesday on the use of animals in research establishments. Of course he is quite right in insisting that there must be compliance with the law and the best possible conditions observed, but if properly conducted experiments on animals can help to reduce the fantastic public and private burden of ill-health currently due to cigarette smoking then I, for one, believe that they should continue until we have found a reasonably acceptable substitute. This could at least help a significant proportion of smokers.

To sum up, I believe that the Government should show the courage of their convictions and ban cigarette advertising and gift schemes altogether. I do not believe that half-measures have any real chance of success, and I think our entire experience since 1964 has proved this. Short of this, the least that can be done is to confine gift schemes to low tar yield brands, and to see that the Advertising Standards Authority does its job to monitor television programmes so that the intention of the 1964 Television Act is effectively carried out. Meanwhile, as the Chancellor has taken another hefty slice of revenue, he should spare a small extra sliver for health education. And finally the Government should stop cajoling the industry and insist on a realistic health warning. The only people for whom I have sympathy are the tobacco workers. When sales decline, as I hope they will, they should be helped to transfer to other work, preferably by their own firms diversifying their activities further. I hope to hear from my noble friend that Dr. Owen's energetic campaign is going to be pressed home.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, may I crave your customary courtesy, generosity, and patience towards a new Member. On this occasion may I also crave your compassion, because this new Member has never been known to make a non-controversial speech. Therefore, although trying hard to conform, I may err, and I hope if I do you will forgive me. I am happy to associate myself with the noble Baroness in this matter. She, of course, is very devoted to this subject because of her own personal experience, and I am equally devoted to it because of my professional experience. I am a doctor of 37 years' standing, 35 of which have been in general practice, 27 of them in London. As noble Lords will guess, I have been able to see quite a lot of the consequences of smoking.

It is also a coincidence that in the very year in which I became a doctor the danger of smoking was first brought to the notice of the profession. A paper was published in 1938 to the effect that smokers lived shorter lives than nonsmokers. Lots of things happened after 1938 and I do not think the profession paid much attention to that particular paper, so it was not until the 'fifties, when there was plenty of research—by Doll and Bradford Hill and several surveys in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, Japan and elsewhere—that we saw the true relationship between lung cancer and smoking. Suddenly everybody woke up to the fact that the cigarette was a killer. All the surveys came out with the same result. They all showed that there was a causal relationship between lung cancer and smoking no different from the relationship between cholera and infected water. They showed that the more one smoked the more one was likely to suffer from lung cancer.

The surveys also showed something encouraging, and this was really the result of the contribution made by my profession in that doctors allowed themselves to be guineapigs on that occasion. It was revealed that by giving up smoking one could reduce the danger of getting lung cancer and that if one gave it up for long enough one's position was no different from the man who had never smoked at all. But that was not all. Naturally, as always happens when a new avenue of research is opened up, other research is done. Those other researches showed two other things. One was that there was a most important predisposal cause of bronchitis and emphysema in cigarette smoking. The other was that there was some important factor in causing coronary heart disease in cigarette smoking. Then more recently, as the noble Baroness pointed out, it was also observed that mothers who smoke during pregnancy tend to have smaller babies than non-smokers and also were more likely to lose their babies from abortion or stillbirth or death in the first days of life.

The researches showed these results. In other words—and I am sure that the lawyers in the House will agree with me —the case against cigarette smoking was firmly made out. That being so, certain obligations fell on society. The first was to try as far as possible to prevent those who have not smoked from starting to smoke. The second was to find ways and means to encourage those who already smoke to stop. The third was to minimise the extent to which those who already smoke do smoke. This falls on everybody. Of course, a heavy burden fell on the profession, which I believe the profession is endeavouring to face; but a very heavy burden fell on the Government (and here I have to beg for noble Lords' compassion because I am not so sure that the Government are facing it) and an obligation fell on the people who are manufacturing this lethal drug. All other lethal drugs are controlled in one way or another and there is therefore an obligation here to control this lethal drug.

We have been having discussions—I have read them—for quite some time on this matter and it is my view that it is about time that we came to grips firmly with the issue. The issue is that cigarette smoking is a killer and that there are 50,000 premature deaths a year as a result of cigarette smoking. That being so, something must be done to reduce the consequences of cigarette smoking on society; and I am sorry to say that the manufacturing industry has continued to resist efforts by the Government to get it to play its part in this. As I see it, if the tobacco manufacturing industry is not prepared to co-operate the Government have a responsibility to legislate, to bring into effect the suggestions that they have been making for voluntary control. When one cannot get voluntary control in an area where one regards such control as essential, then the power of the State must be used, and my controversial contribution tonight is to invite the Government to face this issue squarely.

Admittedly, the present legislative programme is already quite heavy, and therefore nobody would expect the Government to legislate in this Session of Parliament. However, they must be prepared to face the question of legislating on this issue in the next Session. In the meantime, obviously the discussions with the industry can go on, and if we can get some contribution from the industry now, in advance of legislation, that will be all to the good, because the sooner we can get these things done the better. But in the final analysis the Government must face the industry with the clear indication that at the end of the day the Government will be prepared to ask Parliament to legislate to control the problem of cigarette smoking.

When the Government are legislating I hope that they will not stop merely at the things which Dr. Owen was asking the industry to accept. There are other matters which they could deal with in that legislation. For example, I noticed when I was reading the Official Reports of the debates which your Lordships had in 1971 that there was a suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Segal, which everybody dismissed, about using cigarette cards to illustrate the dangers and consequences of cigarette smoking. I am not so sure that that suggestion should have been "pooh-poohed" as much as it was, and I am sure that cigarette cards should be used in an educative sense. There should be a right and duty to put in each packet of cigarettes the facts relating to the consequences of smoking and also some suggestions to those who find it diffi-cut to give up smoking on how they might reduce it. I believe that that should be included as well. In other words, it should be compulsory that such information should be there.

I also believe that we must come straightforwardly to the whole question of the extent to which smoking takes place in public places. At the moment we do not smoke in the theatre—that is out. But we do smoke in the cinema—at least some people do; I do not smoke at all and therefore I do not smoke anywhere—and although local authorities have attempted to stop smoking in cinemas they have had the same experience as Dr. Owen is having. They have tried to negotiate with the cinema people but the latter have dragged their feet, twisted them and turned them, and so far we have never really got a ban on smoking in cinemas. Therefore that is something that I should like to see firmly banned; there should be no smoking in theatres or cinemas. In addition, smoking should be very much restricted in, for example, public transport. I would go all out and ban it there as well, but I am prepared to be lenient and so say that one might have one smoking compartment in every train. That is the kind of thing I am talking about. One should reduce the opportunities for smoking.

Then, my Lords, I honestly think that the Government's contribution to health education in this field is lamentable. We must face that. I see no reason why the Government should not increase the tax on cigarettes and use the money so obtained to advertise the dangers of smoking. That would be a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with the matter. I throw that out for what it is worth. I also believe—and this is tied up with what I said just now—that part of the money raised should be used for television and radio spots which would tell people the consequences of smoking. We do a lot of that in relation to road safety, but four times as many people are killed by smoking as are killed on the roads. Yet so far we hesitate to use the same kind of propaganda against cigarette smoking as we use for road safety. I believe that the same type of campaign is required. I, for one, do not believe that a single fright is enough to stop anybody smoking. It might stop one person, but it will not stop the vast majority. They will stop for a day or so, or maybe even for a week, and then go back to it. What is required is a steady grind and a steady flow of information, so that in the end smokers cannot escape it. That is what we ought to be doing. Frankly, there is no one else to do it but the State—the Government of the day. I really hope that, as a result of Dr. Owen's experience with the industry, the Government will grasp this nettle at long last.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have the pleasant and, on this occasion, extremely easy duty of congratulating the maiden speaker who we have just heard. We knew that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, would be an acquisition to the House—that was clear from his previous record—and we now know that he will also be one of our very persuasive speakers. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this subject and for giving the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, this opportunity for sharing his wisdom with us in his maiden speech. My only regret is that between the two of them they have said most or many of the things which need to be said. However, I do not think that that will daunt me from speaking for a few minutes on some aspects of the subject not all of which have been touched upon.

First, my Lords, the question deals strictly speaking with cigarette advertising, but I feel that we can go a little beyond those narrow limits in order to understand the action of the promoters of cigarette smoking or, as I prefer to call them, the "drug pushers ". We have to understand something about addiction, what it is and what it means. Nobody really understands why some drugs are addictive, but everybody knows that an addiction is a compulsive craving and that the addict cannot give up his drug or, at least, finds it extremely difficult to do so and feels wretched without it. It is quite a mistake to think that the drug is doing him some good. The heroin addict, for instance, finds life unbearable and unsupportable without heroin and waits trembling for his next shot. That does not prove that heroin is of benefit to mankind and that we all ought to take it. Similarly, a non-smoker does not need nicotine, but the addict does and is miserable without it. He needs it because of his addiction. Fortunately, his addiction does not have the serious consequences that heroin addiction has—breakdown of personality, and so on. However, addiction, once induced, is almost as strong as heroin addiction, and it takes the form of a compulsive craving for nicotine.

In this connection, I was interested in a passing remark of the noble Baroness, Lady White, who made a comparison between alcohol and smoking, and wondered whether alcohol or cigarette smoking posed the greater risk to the health of society. It is extremely difficult to weigh this up. I agree with the noble Baroness that the true alcohol addict is a menace to society, to himself and to his family. He is a disaster—much more of a disaster than the cigarette smoker, even if he dies. On the other hand, I agree with the noble Baroness that the large majority of people who take alcohol can take it in moderation or go beyond the limits of moderation only on very special occasions, whereas the truly addicted smoker who inhales cigarettes—and he is not to be confused with pipe smokers and people who puff a cigarette and never inhale—very rarely smokes fewer than 15 to 25 cigarettes a day. If he is given a milder cigarette or a smaller or shorter one, he will smoke more to keep his intake of nicotine up to the level he wants. Any attempt to reduce the nicotine in cigarettes will have the effect that more will be smoked. It is really like trying to produce a whisky that does not contain alcohol.

All these facts are known to the drug pushers. It is also known to them that it is easier to induce an addiction in young people. They do not look to the future; they want to be "with it" at the time. The drug pusher works on all this, and he therefore tends to shift his promotion to young people and to women, because women do not yet smoke as much as men, and so here is a ready market. The male market is almost saturated, but the habit can be spread to countries where there is little smoking at present, African countries, and so on. It seems to me very difficult not to criticise the morals of businessmen who are prepared to do that.

The response so far of the manufacturers to the overwhelming evidence against cigarette smoking has been deplorable. Consider their first action on the publication of the College Report. Mind you, my Lords, the College takes no credit for being original. It simply wrote the Report on the known facts which had been revealed by the researches of other people. The first action of the manufacturers was to discredit all the evidence; to say that it was purely statistical—as if we do not act on statistical evidence every day of our lives—and to stress the need for further research: everything could be shelved, put off, and swept under the carpet. The manufacturers' second reaction has been, whenever restrained to the slightest degree, to find new and even more dangerous ways of promoting their sales and advertising their wares, and to keep negotiations going with the Government for an indefinite period, so that, again, nothing has been done.

Apart from comments on addiction and cigarette advertising, I wish to refer to

the financial side of this matter. I understand that the Treasury estimate for revenue from cigarette sales for 1975 now amounts to £1,600 million. This is a very large sum of money, and I hope that the Government are not at all deterred by any fears which the Treasury may have. Again, this is where the understanding of addiction comes in. No possible rule, or law, or ban, or anything else, will prevent to an enormous extent in a short time, addicted smokers from smoking. Nothing could abolish cigarette smoking within a year, or even five or 10 years. All we can hope for is that new addicts are not hooked to the extent that addicts are today; that cigarette sales will gradually die out; that the habit will be seen to be an undesirable one; and that gradually we shall be back to the days before cigarette inhaling became a common habit.

Therefore, there is absolutely no danger of the Government suddenly losing an enormous revenue—no danger whatever! It will be only a very gradual effect. In the long run—as almost the whole of the tobacco is imported—the final effect on the balance of payments must surely be a favourable one. I know that there are many nicotine addicts among my friends not only in this House but elsewhere, and I do not want to make enemies of them at all. But as a doctor, I must say that I find cynicism and facetious remarks on this subject very difficult to take. They are usually made by people who seem to be incredibly ill-informed of the facts.

My Lords, I was to finish with a quotation which the noble Baroness, Lady White, has already given from the second report of the Royal College of Physicians, and I think that I will re-read that quotation. It is: …it is unwise to allow any form of promotion of a habit with such grave effects on health. The mere existence of advertisements for cigarettes implies that they are desirable and harmless. This contributes to the cultural acceptability of the smoking habit and conflicts with the credibility of public education about its dangers. This debate is based on a Question to Her Majesty's Government about what further steps they now propose to take, and we hope for a firm and unequivocal answer.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, when I put my name down to speak here today I was rather afraid that what I intended to say might be held to be not quite within the bounds of the Question which the noble Baroness has asked, and on which she has spoken so well. But I was encouraged by the speech of my noble colleague Lord Pitt of Hampstead, when he referred to one of the points that I propose to mention. As nobody then objected I propose to mention it myself now. On one or two occasions in the past I have put down Starred Questions, asking whether the Government would encourage local authorities to use the powers, which I think they have, to ban smoking in cinemas to start with, and possibly later in other places of public congregation. One cannot say a great deal in relation to a Starred Question, but I tried to say on those occasions that other countries in Europe do not allow smoking in cinemas. I wonder why we could not follow suit.

I have always been told that other countries in Europe were not doing this for hygienic reasons, but were banning cigarette smoking from the point of view of fire precautions, and that our fire precautions in this country were so excellent that it was not necessary to stop smoking in cinemas as part of the fire precautions rule. That left me completely stuck, because I could not then so reply as to indicate that I do not mind why people in foreign countries are not allowed to smoke in cinemas; the fact is that the populations of Germany, France, Italy and a score of other European countries do not smoke in cinemas because they are told they cannot. I cannot see why, if people in Europe and in a large part of the world are forbidden to smoke in cinemas, people in Great Britain cannot be told likewise.

I thought that that did not really come into the Unstarred Question put down by the noble Baroness, but she argued her point so well that she did not leave me with a great deal to do, except to support her. However, I wanted to bring in this point again to allow myself the chance of saying a few words to explain why I have raised the matter for, I think, a third time. There is the further point, that if smoking in cinemas were prohibited that would certainly eliminate quite a lot of the smoking in the country. One likes to think that it might do something towards helping people to break the habit. If you know that somewhere you cannot do a certain thing, and you do not do it, you might voluntarily do without it. I am extremely pleased to support the noble Baroness in the Question she has asked, and I hope that the Government will be able to give a satisfactory reply.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, there is no doubt whatever about the effects of this habit. It is perfectly clear that tens of thousands of people in this country are having their lives shortened by cigarette smoking, not to mention the illnesses which are also associated with it before they come to their final end. It is also clear that, having once acquired the habit of smoking cigarettes, it is extremely difficult for people to give it up. Some do, but many fail. Therefore, the most important thing of all is to try to prevent people from acquiring this habit. One of the main reasons why they acquire it is due to the seductive advertising of the cigarette manufacturers. Anybody who will take the trouble to study the advertisements will see that they are carefully directed towards the young, to instil into their minds the idea that this is a very pleasant sociable habit which nice-looking, respectable people indulge in, and which is therefore highly desirable. It is therefore necessary that cigarette advertising should be reduced and completely stopped as quickly as possible.

In this country where everybody is afraid to do anything drastic I suppose it is impossible to suggest that cigarette advertising should be stopped immediately and completely. But there is no reason that I can see why it should not be steadily reduced by 10 per cent. a year until it is finally eliminated. If this were done and if there was a campaign on behalf of the Government directed by skilful advertisers to point out the danger and tragedy of cigarette smoking, then indeed there would be the possibility of discouraging a great many, if not all, young people from acquiring the habit. That would be the greatest contribution which could possibly be made to the solution of this problem.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at the outset that my main object in intervening in this debate is to add my very warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, on his maiden speech. I feel that noble Lords on all sides of the House would agree that he is a notable addition to the number of medical men, far too small a number at present, who are Members of this House. He comes to us with a highly distinguished record of public service, and so we welcome all the more his intervention.

I should like to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, that this is a dangerous form of addiction, and I would welcome the time when, like other addictions, it is indulged in only by consenting adults in private. At present it constitutes something of a nuisance when indulged in in public; and I think we are all agreed that the efforts of the Government to restrict the amount of cigarette smoking have so far failed.

I thing the suggestions made this afternoon, that all advertising of cigarette smoking should be prohibited entirely, and that the revenues obtained either by taxation or some other means he acquired in the interests of the State, if effected, would create a tremendous public gain. But again, like so many other speakers this afternoon, I am sceptical about the efforts of the Government in restricting advertising. Recently the public have had to endure a swingeing increase in the cost of petrol, and I feel that the only answer ultimately must be a swingeing increase in the degree of taxation imposed on cigarette smokers. I hope that the day is not too far distant when, instead of having to spend 20p or 35p on a packet of 20 cigarettes, with the rapid rise in inflation which some of us feel has already gone beyond control, the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes will be something in the nature of 100p. Then, at long last, we may be within some measure of controlling this dangerous addiction which today is so prevalent among the public of our country.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I join my noble friends in congratulating most warmly my noble friend Lord Pitt on his maiden speech. I am glad that he chose this subject, because it is one within his professional knowledge and experience, and one upon which we want the authority and influence of the medical profession. My noble friend Lady White kindly referred to the speech which I am likely to make on Wednesday, on the subject of experiments on living animals. I shall not anticipate what I shall say on Wednesday, but I think the great difficulty with this subject is how to cope with the commercial interests involved in the tobacco industry.

I was a member of the Government when Mr. Kenneth Robinson, then Minister of Health, was trying to persuade the tobacco companies to agree to ban the advertising of cigarettes on television. By the way, I regret that the then Minister of Health was himself a cigarette smoker; I think one has to be a non-smoker to talk to the tobacco companies. However, we did get a ban on the advertising of cigarettes on television, but we could not get co-operation on going any further. I believe that it was Sir Keith Joseph, as Minister of Health, who managed to get agreement to the publication in advertisements and on cigarette packets of the health warning.

I fear that the only way to tackle this problem is to nationalise the tobacco companies. I know that this will horrify many noble Lords. They will think that I have become a convert to what is now known as "Bennery ". That is not so. I think that if something is vital to the national interest in one way or another, it may be necessary to acquire it for the nation in order to deal with it, or dispose of it, in the national interest. The tobacco industry should be nationalised in order to run it down. Then the commercial interests will not stand in the way of propaganda or of steps taken to control and reduce the consumption of tobacco. All the influences could then be brought to bear on this problem without fear of the commercial consequences. I think that the finances of the matter could be settled through the instrument of taxation and there would then be some hope of accomplishing the aim which I think the country will have to try to achieve; because smoking is a health hazard, it is a fire hazard, it is a form of pollution, it is disagreeable to a great many other people and I think that in its own interest the nation should begin to see the end of it. It may take a long time, but I think that if we are going to rid our living habits of this addiction, it has to be done in a very courageous and efficient way.

The noble Baroness referred to the use of animals and the "smoking beagles ", of which we have heard so much lately, to try to find an alternative substance to smoking. Many experiments seem to be going on to test the effects of smoking tobacco, but other tests and experiments have been going on in trying to discover a less harmful alternative to tobacco. That means substituting one addiction for another. I do not know; I am not a medical man or scientist. It may be that there are qualities in tobacco, some basic ingredient of tobacco which creates this addiction and craving, for which there may be no substitute. But it seems to me that there is very little purpose in trying to find a substitute for tobacco if one then begins on the additional hazards of the one you have chosen. It is no good pruning out one addiction in order to replace it with another, and then having to get rid of that. This is a very difficult problem scientifically, and I will have a little more to say about that on Wednesday.

I think that if young people are to be discouraged from acquiring this habit, then the older people must set an example. It is no good the older people thinking that they are beyond redemption and they must go on smoking, but in some way trying to discourage the younger people from following their example. The younger people say, "What is this that you are doing, that you are saying I must not do? Why are you going on doing it if it is going to kill you? Why are you trying to save my life and not bothering about your own? There must be something in this. You are a middle-aged wise parent; you are supposed to have all the wisdom of years." The young boy or girl will go on, "Why are you telling me that what is apparently good for you is bad for me? "If the parent says that it is also bad for him then the young person will say, "Why are you going on doing it? You must be a fool! "How can you go on with that kind of argument with young people?

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord has seen the leaflet which is distributed to the children in some schools, entitled What You Should Tell Your Parents About Smoking.


My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen it, but I am sure it is on the right lines. Young people can be arrested if they have cannabis in their possession. The police have the right of entry to discover it. Thousands of young people are being hounded by the police and prosecuted for having and smoking cannabis. We hear how deeply deplored are the popular festivals for the amount of drug trafficking that goes on in these large assemblies of young people. Middle-aged people who smoke like chimneys and drink like fish go purple with rage at the decadence of young people in indulging in this drug cannabis; but they are addicts themselves. More people die of lung cancer than die of any effect of cannabis. Yet we take a serious view of cannabis and a relaxed view of tobacco. Why? It is because the laws of the land are made by middle-aged and older people. That is why. They always like to legislate for the young and not to legislate for themselves.

One can get very mixed up about this. The only clear line is to regard tobacco smoking as a health hazard; as undesirable in the national interest; to set about getting rid of it and have a plan for doing so. The warnings on the packets are not enough. The whole influence of persuasion and propaganda must be brought to bear in every conceivable way—not suggestions that cork-tipped cigarettes are less harmful, or that cigars are better or that if you smoke a pipe it is not too bad. These are playing about with the problem. Great courage and determination will be needed; but I do not see it coming off, because I do not think any political Party will have the courage to tackle the problem in that way. Happily, however, I notice that the Imperial group are now diversifying their activities widely. They have decided not to put all their eggs in the tobacco basket. I notice with some satisfaction that they are the proprietors of HP sauce.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very sorry for the Government, for their predicament in this matter. This is an appallingly difficult question. On the one hand, there is the enormous contribution that is made through the Treasury garnering in every year what I think the noble Lord, Lord Platt, said was £1,600 million. I know that it is, at least, £1,250 million. I do not know whether the noble Lord who is to reply will be in a position to give the right figure.

My Lords, I greatly admired the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead. If he can always be so pleasant when he is contentious, I hope we shall hear him very often indeed. He faced the problem squarely from his point of view. I thought, if I may say so, the noble Baroness, Lady White, stated the case extremely fairly without exaggeration in any way. But there are logical difficulties inherent in the whole situation. What is one to deduce from the fact that she mentioned that you can stop advertising altogether yet still the consumption goes up? In this country we have brand advertising; we have competition between brands. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, "All right, nationalise the lo!" I wonder how he would draft the Bill declaring the function of the nationalised tobacco industry in that case. We should finally be having tobacco on prescription, rather like drugs.

Seriously, the fact that it is brand advertising, and that advertising is carried out, is not wholly bad. For example, but for advertising how could we have had the enormous change over to filter cigarettes? I doubt whether we would have had it at all. What one wants to secure —and I am sure this is right—is that there is not direct advertising to the young to encourage anybody to start smoking. These are the things that the original tobacco code was supposed to achieve. There are great difficulties in administering any kind of code, but a code of this description—that places restraints on an industry in a way that it does not place restraints on other industry—must be one that is either agreed between the Government and the industry, or else one that is imposed by an Act of Parliament.

It would be impossible to have a code of industry administered by any other body, statutory or non-statutory, with which the Government did not agree, which the Government did not support, and which the Government of the day were always claiming was not being interpreted sufficiently keenly and severely. In this sphere one has to try to balance all the factors. As times goes on, it may well be that the habit of smoking will diminish. There already has been some diminution in cigarette smoking in this country, contrary to what has happened elsewhere, even where there has been advertising. One has to exercise careful judgment to see how one is to achieve the main objectives. The main objective in all life must be to avoid excess of any kind. If you do anything to excess it is bad; if you constantly do things to excess it is lethal. So far as I know, there is no evidence that cigarette smoking in moderation has any great effect. Some of my relatives lived to over 90, although they smoked all their lives.

I want to inject a little moderation in all circumstances, and to express general sympathy with the Government in dealing with what is an extremely difficult problem. Also, one has to remember that. if one curtails all advertising, one would not only be affecting the manufacturers' revenue but also the revenue of the newspapers. That would, perhaps, mean higher prices for newspapers. It is wise for me to say that because it shows how difficult the problem is and the interests one will be affecting; but the main object is to teach moderation.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it is an indication of the seriousness of this matter that we have had more speakers "appearing" in the gap on the list of speakers than those who actually put down their names to speak. That is as good an indication as one would want. I am not certain that I can give the House, and my noble friend Lady White, any great consolation as to what the Government are proposing to do if I am expected to set out in firm terms the Government's immediate intentions. But having listened to my noble friend, and to a distinguished array of speakers including a number from the medical profession, I think that the reading of Hansard tomorrow will provide the Government with a good deal of understanding of the feelings of your Lordships' House. I know my noble friend the Minister of State, who feels very keenly on this matter, will be much encouraged by what has been said today.

Before continuing, may I be allowed from this Dispatch Box to offer my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead. We have known each other over a good many years, and I want to make it perfectly clear to him that I do not say this as any matter of form. It is seldom that we have heard a better maiden speech, and it has been all the more admirable because he has been able to do what few of us can do—I cannot do it—and that is, to make it with a delightful smile on his face. I wish more of us did that, even when we are feeling very strongly about some matters. I am sure I am expressing the feelings of those of your Lordships who heard my noble friend when I say that I hope he will find time—and I use the phrase advisedly—to attend your Lordships' House regularly and take part in those matters about which he feels deeply. There is a considerable amount of skill, knowledge and expertise in your Lordships' House, and my noble friend brings a particular expertise of his own.

The six proposals to which my noble friend made reference, which were made to the cigarette manufacturing companies in July 1974 by the Minister of State for Health, Dr. David Owen, have been criticised by a few as unreasonable and by others as not being strong enough. In the review of Government action on this matter a year ago it was decided to make a fresh attempt to progress through regulation of cigarette advertising and promotion by voluntary agreement between the tobacco companies, and to take it as far as it was possible to do so at that time. The discussions were embarked on without any prejudgment about the possibility of reaching agreement, in a genuine attempt to produce a package of proposals which, it was hoped, would have some effect.

The principal weakness of earlier voluntary agreements was considered to be that no attempt had been made to strike a realistic balance between promotion of education about the dangers of cigarette smoking and promotion of sales. The imbalance, as my noble friend very clearly pointed out—and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for mentioning it again, but I think it is important for this point to sink in—was highlighted by the Minister of State for Health in another place, when he said that the total figure for promotion in 1974–75 was probably around £70 million, while health education expenditure at national level on smoking in the United Kingdom was, I think, only £330,000. This is a significant sum when compared with what is spent on the promotional side. If adults are to make a free choice and companies are to remain free to promote a product that will be dangerous to many who buy it, the Government feel there must be a balance in the presentation of both sides of the picture which does not exist at the present moment.

Thus the first and key proposal made to the tobacco industry was that it should voluntarily contribute a sizeable percentage of its promotional expenditure towards public education about the danger to health from smoking. We did not feel that that was an unreasonable request to make. Obviously, if the industry chooses to abandon the positive promotion of what it must know to be a dangerous product, it would be unreasonable to ask it to make a contribution to health education. It is a matter of great regret to the Government that this proposal, which was not for any particular percentage figure, was so firmly rejected by the industry. It is hard to see how the National Health Service can give up enough revenue to counter a £70 million promotion effort by the tobacco industry. The Government are now considering urgently the implications of this rejection. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to make any announcement about it today, but I should like to take this opportunity, standing where I am, to make an appeal on behalf of the Government to the industry to look very seriously and urgently at the proposal once more, in the light of what has been said by my noble friend Lady White and noble Lords who followed her. The imbalance of promotional effort between the tobacco industry and health education is too great to allow it to continue unchecked. I do not think one can over-emphasise this point.

The other five proposals, although important, become of less significance and potential value if the first proposal falls; but there has been some progress on them since the Minister of State in another place reported progress as at 10th April last. I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time on these matters, but perhaps your Lordships will allow me to spell them out fairly briefly. The second proposal was that the advertising of cigarettes in cinemas should be abolished. The industry offered in February to withdraw advertisements from "U" films, but as these represent only a small proportion of films and children may see "A" and "AA" films, the industry was asked to extend withdrawal, as a minimum, to these also. I think perhaps I should explain that the companies are still discussing this matter and hope to come to a decision within a matter of weeks. The main problem arises from the fact that any agreement would have a different commercial effect on each company. It is this that makes legislation by voluntary agreement so difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, quite rightly pointed out, especially when a restriction suggested by Government has more than a marginal effect on commercial sales and interest.

The third proposal was that tighter control should be exercised over the way sponsored events were used by cigarette manufacturers to promote their products. In particular, they were asked that names of brands of cigarettes should not be given to sponsored events or shown on racing cars, since this circumvented the ban on television advertising. In the mind of the industry these two proposals are linked, because some companies are prepared to concede the second proposal it other companies are prepared to concede the third. There is also some reluctance to concede because of international repercussions. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, pointed out, one runs into so many difficult situations.

Since there has not been an outright rejection of these proposals as there was on the first occassion and the Department of Health has been assured that the industry intends to adopt a responsible and cooperative approach to them, discussions are continuing. But the Department has stressed the need for urgency on the part of the industry in reaching an agreed view. One company has expressed regret that recognition was not given publicly to its statement to the Department that it was prepared to act unilaterally on part of the third proposal. But it was not the only company which declared its position to the Department, and one statement could hardly be revealed alone. The Government welcome any action, even if it is taken unilaterally, but can hardly endorse this action until it has actually taken effect. The Government would be very willing to report to your Lordships, and of course to another place, any action that any of the companies take on any of the six proposals made to them, when action is actually taken.

The fourth proposal was for a speedy conclusion to the discussions that have been going on for some time on the showing on cigarette advertisements and packets of the tar yield of the brand. By 10th April agreement had been reached on showing tar yields on Press and poster advertising within five broad groups, ranging from "low" to "high", but no progress has been made on the inclusion of the tar group on packets at this stage. Your Lordships will know that the five groups are: low tar; low to middle tar; middle tar; middle to high; and high. The industry says that there are both legal and practical problems and difficulties to be overcome on this. The Department has suggested a form of words which it believes would not involve the companies in any significant legal risk. It is not possible to suggest a form of words which would give a "no risk "guarantee. Such protection would be available only if legislative powers could be taken. The industry has restated its anxiety to avoid the possibility of being liable to prosecution if the contents of a packet do not agree with the description on it. It was also concerned about the wastage of incorrectly labelled packaging which might arise. The companies have agreed to discuss the suggested wording with their lawyers, to establish the extent to which the legal difficulties would be overcome and to qualify the practical problems which would arise if such a system were adopted.

The fifth proposal related to the wording of the health warning on advertisements and packets, and to its position on packets. Discussions are continuing on this proposal, but I think I must in all fairness and frankness tell your Lordships that the companies have said that it would be very difficult for them to accept voluntarily the use of the warning proposed to them—that, again, is the warning to which my noble friend Lady White referred—which says: Danger. Cigarettes cause lung cancer, bronchitis and heart disease ". It is for discussion whether or not this warning message should be a matter for negotiation within the industry. Many people take the view that this is a factual statement and that the contents of the message should be decided on medical advice.

The sixth proposal that gift coupons be abolished or limited to brands of low or low-to-middle tar groups was rejected last February. A modified proposal that coupons be abolished in cigarette brands in the two highest tar groups is being discussed. But since the majority of cigarettes are not in these categories this proposal would have a very limited effect and in the Government's view it is obviously preferable to limit coupons to the lower two, not merely to remove them from the upper two groups.


My Lords, might I interrupt for one moment? I wonder whether the noble Lord agrees that if one is going to ask the tobacco trade to agree to proposals such as this, they may well say, "Why don't you make the same proposals to the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks because the harmful effect is equal, though different of course? "


My Lords, that may well be true. The same thought went through my mind when I was listening to my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead. I thought that much of what he said—he may not agree with me—might well apply to alcohol. But we are dealing with tobacco and I should like to remain on that, if I may.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I would say that the real proof concerning cigarette smoking is the clear evidence of certain direct causes of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease. There is a certain amount of evidence of what happens to pregnant women who smoke. There is also clear evidence that a smoker has twice as much chance as a smoker of dying before the age of 65. The truth is that we have no such case made against alcohol. That is the point. Of course most of us know of diseases that are related to alcohol, particularly to the excessive consumption of alcohol. But there is no stated case made against alcohol of the type that is made against cigarette smoking. In fact, the only analogy with cigarette smoking is cholera or typhoid.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has now had more than a full reply on the matter. My noble friend Lady White asked me about the Hunter Report. I understand that the first Report of the Hunter Committee on the testing and marketing of tobacco substitutes and additives in tobacco is expected to be published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office as a priced document by the middle of June.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, asked about smoking in public places. This is a question which I know has exercised the minds of many of your Lordships as well as a succession of Governments. The Department has for some time encouraged those responsible for public places to introduce for the first time or to increase their non-smoking accommodation. Recent surveys by the Consumers' Association and by Gallup have shown that a majority of people, including smokers themselves, would like to see an increase in non-smoking accommodation; and this is happening. For example, recently British Airways increased their non-smoking accommodation to over 40 per cent., which was what their own survey showed was the wish of passengers. I feel sure that if passengers and patrons—I am referring now to patrons who use our public places and cinemas—continue to make their views on non-smoking accommodation known, those responsible for public places will respond to their wishes, I hope voluntarily. This is felt by some people to be preferable to legislation.

The only ether point I want to make is that everything that has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon, save one observation by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on nationalisation—and may we leave that out and forget about it for the moment; it was rather conten- tious—represents the Government's view in respect of the matter raised by my noble friend Lady White. I can give no real joy in the sense of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Platt, who wanted to know whether I was going to say something very definite about Government action in the future. If by that he meant legislation, let me be frank and say that I cannot give that assurance. At the moment, the choice is between some continued and definite form of education and legislation. At the moment, the Government are minded to continue their talks with the tobacco industry. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would agree that at this stage we could not have anybody better to deal with this than my honourable friend the present Minister of State for Health, who feels very strongly about this matter, as of course did his predecessor.


My Lords, could the noble Lord the Minister add, too, as I think he indicated earlier, that the tobacco industry also is minded to continue its talks with the Government?


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for reminding me of that point.