HL Deb 29 November 1999 vol 607 cc662-5

3.3 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made in discouraging the promotion of tobacco products, and in protecting non-smokers from the effects of passive smoking.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, as part of our comprehensive programme against tobacco, the Government will ban tobacco advertising in line with Directive 98/43/EC as soon as practicable. We have supported the hospitality industry's Public Places Charter and the Health and Safety Commission's proposal to introduce an approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive reply. As he takes these matters forward, will he bear in mind the work of the World Bank on the subject? It has carried out research into the effects of a complete ban on tobacco promotion and advertising which shows that it is the one measure that would have a real effect. It is estimated that it would lead to a fall in consumption of 7 per cent.

As my noble friend continues his discussions with the hospitality industry, will he draw its attention to the positive commercial benefits that can be gained from offering customers a choice between smoking and smoke-free areas in pubs and restaurants? I draw his attention to the outcome of the research carried out in Staffordshire. It showed that pub landlords can expect an increase in takings of 7 per cent if they are able to offer that choice.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Yes, my Lords. If we can reduce the amount of tobacco consumption in the country, we can improve the health of the people of the nation. I have no doubt that the banning of advertising has an important role to play, albeit alongside other preventive measures. The study to which my noble friend referred is interesting. There is increasing evidence to show that improving facilities for non-smokers increases the takings of businesses. That reinforces our aim to work in partnership, particularly with the hospitality industry, to ensure that there is greater provision for non-smokers in hotels, pubs and restaurants.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, if the Government are being honest about wishing to discourage the promotion of tobacco, can the Minister tell the House why they continue to support the European Union's tobacco regime? It gives £8,000 million annually to people to grow tobacco in the European Union, most of which is of such poor quality that it has to be dumped on developing nations, no doubt to their detriment. Can the noble Lord tell the House when this abuse—almost incredible, even by the standards of the European Union—is to end?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, this Government have consistently argued that the EU policy on tobacco growing is out of step with other efforts in Europe in relation to the discouragement of tobacco consumption. In June 1998, under the UK presidency, a number of changes were agreed to the tobacco regime. Since then there has been a further change in the funding available for research. It includes alternative ways for tobacco farmers to make a living.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, as someone who has recently given up cigarettes, my view remains that so long as smoking is legal and the Chancellor of the Exchequer harnesses great funds from taxation of tobacco, smokers should have equal rights with non-smokers. The real issue at stake was raised by my noble friend Lord Faulkner—proper choice and the rights of smokers and non-smokers to be given due regard in all such matters.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am on my 25th attempt to give up smoking, so I understand the noble Lord's point. Of course, it is right that we should give choice. But we must also pay attention to non-smokers who, in many cases, are forced to inhale the smoke of others. The whole purpose of the Government's efforts is to enable there to be non-smoking areas in a s many facilities as possible in order that non-smokers should not have to inhale the smoke of others.

Baroness Young

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that one group in the population smoking heavily is young girls? Does he also agree that it appears that it is a sophisticated cultural activity? Does the Minister consider that the measures on advertising being proposed will help to lessen that, as no other kind of education seems to have had any effect on that group of the population?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The latest figures I have for 1996 show that 15 per cent of girls in the 11 to 15 age range smoke. That is clearly a worrying figure and we need to do everything we can to reduce it. A ban on advertising would be helpful because the brands to which teenagers are attracted seem also to be those that advertise the most. There are other initiatives that we can take, including health education and advertising campaigns that encourage young people not to smoke. I believe that we need to tackle more vigorously than in the past the question of the sale of tobacco products to under age young people in retail outlets.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the House of Lords should have a more restrictive policy on smoking?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is a matter for the House authorities. I encourage my noble friend to raise the matter with the appropriate authorities.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, since noble Lords appear to be declaring their interests today I shall declare mine. I am a non-smoker and have never smoked. I am also a convinced European. Is the Minister able to say when consideration will be given to alternative crops? The countries within the European Union which grow tobacco have been members for a great number of years. One would have thought that such studies had already been conducted.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am unable to give a definitive date because discussions continue. I can tell the noble Baroness that the Government are determined to do all that they can in discussions within Europe to effect a change in policy.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords—

Lord Monson

My Lords, we have not had a turn.

Noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, we seem to have quite a lot of time left for this Question. As the Cross-Benches have not contributed yet perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, can put her question after the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that scientific survey after scientific survey has failed to prove that passive smoking causes cancer or any other fatal disease, however uncomfortable and irritating smoke undoubtedly is to non-smokers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, my understanding is that studies have been made which link passive smoking to heart disease, serious respiratory illness and asthmatic attacks, particularly in infants and young children. I understand that a non- smoker living or working in a very smoky environment over a prolonged period is 20 or 30 per cent more likely to get cancer than is a non-smoker who does not.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that both the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and the charming-looking noble Baroness sitting almost next to him, whose name I do not know, look terribly well, as do most people in this House, but when they have been here a little longer they will discover that they are able to go miles away from those who pollute their atmosphere? Will the noble Lord excuse this old girl if she leaves as soon as he finishes his response in order to have a fag?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Baroness certainly looks well on it. I return to my original point. It is important that there should be choice for both smokers and non-smokers but we must give non-smokers consideration in situations where they are forced to inhale other people's smoke.