HL Deb 24 June 1998 vol 591 cc239-42

2.41 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will publish their paper on smoking reduction.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the White Paper will be published later this year. My noble friend will have noted, I hope with pleasure, the adoption last Monday, 22nd June, of the tobacco advertising directive by the European Union Council of Ministers. Now that the directive has been adopted, the White Paper will set out our plans for implementing it and other proposals to build a comprehensive policy to tackle smoking.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, is the Minister shocked at the figures published in Hansard on Monday indicating the increase in regular smoking among children aged between 11 and 15? While welcoming the EU directive, surely we must now take urgent action. Can my noble friend say when the White Paper will be published? Meanwhile, as a gesture of goodwill, and recognising for once the excellence of action taken from the other side of the House, can my noble friend say how pleased she is at the decision by Mr. Archie Norman, chairman of the Conservative Party, to ban smoking at its headquarters? Can we not now ban smoking in at least part of the Library of this House?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the issue of young people starting smoking is indeed of great concern. The figures published by the Health Education Authority earlier this week were disturbing. One of the key priorities for action to be covered by the White Paper on tobacco control is to prevent the young from starting smoking. I join my noble friend in congratulating the honourable Member in another place, Mr. Archie Norman, on the decision he has taken about Conservative Central Office. The Labour Party headquarters at Millbank have been smoke free in that sense for a long time.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, first, when was the last time that health Ministers met with the tobacco industry to discuss the content and implementation of the forthcoming White Paper? Secondly, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is the kind of Lord who stops people like me from visiting America with his bigoted idea of no freedom for anyone—although there seems to be freedom for some in another context?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I find the second part of the noble Baroness's question rather surprising. Is she suggesting that all forms of freedom are banned in the United States? That is something the founders of the constitution might find somewhat remarkable. If the noble Baroness refers to smoking on aeroplanes, I am entirely in support of those airlines which have made it easier for people who wish to travel in a smoke free environment to do so.

As regards consultation with the relevant tobacco industries, my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health, Ms Jowell, had a great deal of contact with the industry when the Green Paper on public health was being constructed. She intends to continue that as thinking on the White Paper is developed.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there seems quite a head of steam calling for a ban on smoking in all places where food is consumed? Will my noble friend note that peanuts, pretzels, popcorn and pork scratchings are all regarded as foodstuffs? If the ban were comprehensive, virtually every public house in Britain would suffer marked commercial disadvantage.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, my noble friend may have detected a head of steam in this direction but the Government are attracted by the considerable progress made over the past few years for a voluntary ban on smoking in public places. We have had discussion today in your Lordships' House about the decisions taken by the political parties, for example. Those are clearly voluntary. It is more likely that we shall develop policies on a voluntary basis as regards public places simply because experience shows that more draconian measures tried in other countries have been largely unsuccessful.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Janner, asked about smoking in the Palace of Westminster. Will the Minister consult with the Chairman of Committees on whether this matter has been discussed in any of the committees of your Lordships' House in the hope that a conclusion may have been reached which would satisfy the noble Lord?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, that is a question for those who are in charge of the organisation of the House rather than for Ministers with departmental responsibilities. I understand that a committee of the House has been established precisely on that question and that my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey is chairing it.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, will the Minister undertake not to publish the names of those people serving on such a committee on the ground of personal safety?

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, are the Government prepared to publish any hints on giving up smoking? I ask the question because I gave up smoking 40 years ago at my third attempt.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, we should probably take lessons from the noble Earl rather than the other way round.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that experience has shown that far from persuading people to reduce their smoking, or stopping children taking up smoking, the intolerant attitude of anti-smokers does exactly the reverse, as is revealed by the figures referred to by my noble friend Lord Janner? Would it not be better if the Government encouraged tolerance for those who smoke and for those who do not? That would be the attitude that I would expect in a really democratic society.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the Government, the Department of Health and the medical profession have a responsibility to try to reduce the impact of those factors which kill people prematurely. It is clear that avoiding smoking would prevent one third of UK cancers every year; and that is a target we are prepared to pursue vigorously.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, on what is World Osteoporosis Day, will the Minister confirm that smoking is a predisposing cause of osteoporosis?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly draws attention to the fact that it is not simply cancer which smoking can cause. There are a number of other diseases, interestingly, in particular, those which predominantly affect women, where smoking is an important cause. One of the most disturbing facts to emerge from the latest figures is the number of young women who are taking up smoking.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, does the noble Baroness have an estimate of the cost to the National Health Service of the treatment of illness caused by smoking?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, those figures are difficult to acquire, but I shall try to supply them to the noble Earl in writing. I can tell him that every year smoking kills 120,000 people prematurely in the United Kingdom. Presumably the cost to the National Health Service can be calculated in terms of their clinical treatment, but it is difficult to do so.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, in the light of comments about the nanny state, will the Minister say whether the Government have any plans for restrictions on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of, say, alcohol, confectionery, motor cars, drugs, fireworks or even dangerous sports such as soldiers going on the tops of mountains?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, one can always try to make fun of this very serious problem. The fact remains that smoking kills 120,000 people prematurely; it is responsible for at least two-thirds of the excess mortality rate among the poor; and it therefore contributes greatly to inequalities in health which we see among our population. It causes 90 per cent. of lung cancer and 20 per cent. of heart disease. Those factors should be taken into account by any responsible Department of Health.

Lord Rix

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that a number of pregnant women who smoke give birth to lightweight babies who in turn develop many handicaps and disabilities in future life?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, yes, I am happy to confirm that. It is one of the reasons why one of the most active anti-smoking campaigns is conducted among pregnant women. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, one of the greatest concerns is the number of women of child-bearing age who are new smokers.