HL Deb 14 January 1986 vol 469 cc959-62

2.52 p.m.

Lord Airedale

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, since the Commissioners of Customs and Excise recently reported (in Cmnd. 9655) "an increase of nearly 2 per cent. in cigarette clearances" they remain satisfied with their campaign to discourage cigarette smoking.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are in no way complacent on this topic but feel that Government policies have been effective in view of the 20 per cent. fall in cigarette consumption since 1978 and the drop of 2.7 per cent. in total cigarette clearances on a calendar year comparison between 1983 and 1984.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I am much obliged for that Answer, but if the Government see this as a battle between the persuaders, on the one hand, and themselves, the dissuaders, on the other, are they really satisfied that they are winning the battle fast enough?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the reductions in cigarette sales are substantial: from 125 billion in 1978 to less than 100 billion in 1984. I believe the noble Lord will be aware that in other countries where there is a total ban on advertising and sports promotion the progress is not as rapid as in this country.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether these figures, and the suggestion that there has been an increase, do not reflect the fact that there are much bigger imports from Western Europe, where the cigarettes are of a higher tar content than is normal in this country? Is it not very satisfactory that there has been a substantial overall fall which is not in accordance with the figures in the Question?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in his Question the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is in fact referring to the report of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise based on a financial year. In fact, there was an exceptionally high level of clearances prior to the last Budget. The point made by my noble friend on increases in imported cigarettes does point to the fact that purchases are governed by price variations rather than any other factors.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that non-smokers—who are now the majority—are entitled to some protection from the pollution caused in public places by smokers? This is particularly so in places of work where people simply cannot escape drawing in other people's smoke.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I feel that this is somewhat outside the terms of the original Question. Nevertheless, I can say that I heartily agree with the noble Baroness and that in various parts of the country many measures are being taken to endeavour to combat this problem of people smoking in public places.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, having for many years in the past tried to dissuade my noble friend Lord Shinwell from smoking, may I ask whether the noble Baroness the Minister does not agree that the main publicity emphasis should be directed at young persons in our society?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I fully agree. While congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on overcoming the effects of tobacco smoking, I would point out that in the light of recent research the Government are particularly concerned about the level of smoking among secondary schoolchildren. Measures will be taken in this regard.

Lord Alport

My Lords, if those of us who smoke, as I do, give it up, what would be the cost to the Exchequer of the additional pensions we would draw during the further years we would expect to live and what would be the increased cost to the National Health Service of treatment for the increasing senility which would result, compared with the returns to the Exchequer from the present tobacco tax?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, while agreeing with the underlying premise of my noble friend's question, may I say that I will do a little more research before giving a detailed answer?

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a recent statistical survey in the London Borough of Ealing revealed that about 2,000 people a year need not have died if they had not been heavy cigarette smokers? When one multiplies that figure to cover the United Kingdom, is not smoking seen to be in every sense a deadly habit? Would it not be criminal to allow the deadly weed to be obtained anywhere on the cheap?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government have welcomed the publication of the report from the British Medical Association and from the Health Education Council known as The Big Kill. It graphically illustrates the extent of avoidable illness and premature death caused by cigarette smoking as it affects every part of the country and the cost to the National Health Service of providing treatment for smoking-related diseases. We hope that the report and other similar publications and protestations will stimulate further reductions in cigarette smoking.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of the necessity to preserve the personal freedom of choice of distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, including my noble friend Lord Shinwell and, if I may say so, on a less distinguished scale, myself, will the Government continue to reserve their position about pipe smoking?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am not aware that there has been any indication from the Government that they are to alter their position on pipe smoking.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that, on the whole, Britain is overpopulated and if people choose to shorten their lives that is their own affair?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I think I need give no further answer. The point has been noted.

Lord Renton

My Lords, bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Alport said in his supplementary question, is my noble friend aware that since I gave up smoking at the age of 65 I have become a much younger person? I have had nothing like the number of irksome colds that I used to have, and I am therefore much less of a burden on the National Health Service.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I have noted my noble friend's point and I hope we shall bear in mind his advice as a consolation when we reach pensionable age.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, should my noble friend not be a little careful before taking too seriously the advice from the noble Baroness on the Liberal Benches about controls on smoking in public places, since it has apparently been established by the medical profession that it is not only smoking which is liable to threaten our health and to shorten our lives but also eating, drinking, and even sex? Are we to ban all those things too in public places?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, it is difficult to know where to draw the line. I feel sure that the Government will do their best to get their priorities right.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a recent survey which was commissioned by the DHSS showed that 75 per cent. of schoolchildren aged 11 to 16 thought that cigarette advertising was allowed and was being shown on television? Is she further aware that the rate of cigarette smoking in 11- to 16year-olds is shown to have gone up by 2 per cent in the past two years? In view of this, will the Government take steps to enforce the legislative provisions that are supposed to prohibit the advertising of cigarettes on television which regularly circumvents this legislation by means of sports sponsorship?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as I have already said, the Government are particularly concerned about the level of smoking among secondary schoolchildren in particular and young people in general. We are aware of the figures that the noble Lord has quoted, and this is the reason for a media campaign by the Government—a pilot project at the moment in two television regions—which is aimed at discouraging teenagers from smoking. A large amount of money is being put toward this, and the pilot project, which uses television and cinema advertising, will be carefully evaluated with a view to testing the potential for a national campaign.

Forward to