HL Deb 22 January 1986 vol 470 cc231-3

2.45. p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

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 what initiatives are being taken to dissuade children from starting to smoke.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, this a priority area for the Government. The Health Education Council recently began a major new initiative directed at all secondary schools. The Government are funding a £1 million pilot advertising campaign to influence teenagers against the habit, and additional measures are under consideration and review.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for her enlightening reply, may I ask whether teachers and youth leaders are made aware of the effect of their example to children on smoking, as well as the example of parents who must also realise the close connection between pocket money and early smoking, since this is said to account for £70 million to £90 million worth of cigarette smoking?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes, the latter figure that my noble friend quotes of between £70 million and £90 million being spent by children on smoking is a very disturbing one. The Government are focusing very much on that area. That is why the Health Education Council's special project, the Family Smoking Education Project, represents the major effort. The project is aimed especially at 11 to 14-year-olds, and material, including a special teachers' guide and a leaflet for parents, tells about what they can do to deter their children from smoking. These are being distributed free to all secondary schools.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether it would be appropriate to define what is meant by the term "smoke"? We are told to believe—but I cannot endorse the belief—that pipe smoking is less dangerous than cigarette smoking, and that cigar smoking is even worse; but naturally cigar smoking is not so common because of the cost. But much also depends on the kind of tobacco that is smoked. If it is good tobacco in one's pipe, that can constitute no danger to the individual concerned. What has happened at the present time is that parents who have the responsibility do not care two hoots about what their children do. The man takes a cigarette out of his pocket or he gets one from his wife; she has one in her mouth also. They smoke cigarettes. What do you expect the child to do? It follows the parents; it is a natural thing. That is the kind of thing which should be curtailed to a large extent; and it can be done by defining the word "smoke". What does it mean? Why destroy the smoking of a pipe? Very often that is an enjoyment, provided that one gets the right pipe and the right brand of tobacco.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, from all accounts the noble Lord is himself a great expert in this area—and I feel sure that his experience extends for much longer than my own.

In attempting to define "smoke" or "smoking" I feel that I must confine myself to the question raised by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox in relation to tobacco smoking. Figures suggest that cigarette smoking is more harmful than pipe smoking. Nevertheless, I think that our aim is to discourage children from starting the habit of any form of tobacco smoking.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the literature on this subject includes advice to people as to how to give up smoking? Might it contain a reference to the hideous experience of smoking herbal tobacco, which kills the habit stone dead very quickly?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Health Education Council's various projects contain advice on many methods of giving up the habit of smoking. In this Question we are directing our attention to preventing children from starting smoking, but no doubt herbal remedies might well be considered in part of the literature issued by the Government.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, bearing in mind the department's own statement that cigarette smoking—I think not pipe smoking—among children is increasing at the present time, and bearing in mind another DHSS survey which showed that in Northern Ireland some 65 per cent. of the 11 to 15 year-olds thought that they had seen cigarette advertising on television, is it not clear that sports sponsorship by tobacco companies has become a very powerful weapon used by the cigarette manufacturers to get at young people, the main participants in sport? Is it not time that the Government intervened to stop this damaging and needless encouragement to children to take up this deadly habit?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is referring to research conducted by Dr. Ledwith of Manchester University into this area which suggested that televised sponsored events are regarded by children as advertising. Both advertising and sports sponsorship are already strictly controlled by means of voluntary agreements with the tobacco industry, and in essence they seek to ensure that children are not encouraged to smoke as a result of advertising and sponsorship.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that retail tobacconists have an important part to play here and could often dissuade children from buying cigarettes, even when they pretend that they are buying them for their parents?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. In recent years a number of measures have been taken to discourage illegal sales to children, including the issue of guidelines to retailers. Fines for this offence have also been increased, and we are considering what further measures might be taken.

Baroness Masham of Ilion

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the highest number of smokers seems to be in the young female group? Will she consider some initiatives being taken by the Government—for instance, holding essay competitions in schools on the dangers of smoking, with the winners perhaps having a holiday of their choice, such as a ski-ing holiday? Would that not mean more to them than just reading in school an advertisement which they sometimes challenge? They may challenge society, such as parents and teachers, and do the opposite. Is the noble Baroness aware that many children progress from smoking cigarettes to taking other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes, this is a difficult area, and that is why current initiatives to prevent smoking include the "My Body" project to improve knowledge of the effect of smoking on health, and the "Pace-setters Don't Smoke" campaign, which involves sporting and other personalities who are likely to appeal to youth and to set them an example.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, will the noble Baroness recognise that in a democracy there is a limit as to how far one can go in stopping something from happening? We can do all we can through education, and I believe that that is being done; but there is a limit to what we can do. Perhaps I may point out, in relation to my noble friend Lord Shinwell rising and intervening in this matter, that he is over 100 years old and has been smoking all his life, which proves that some of these research wallahs are absolute idiots.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, it is true that we need not be totally despondent about this matter. After all, the figures on which we are basing all this detail were provided for the first time on a national basis only in 1982. The survey was repeated in 1984, and it is on these fairly short-term figures that we are basing our analysis. Therefore, we shall try not to despair.