HL Deb 13 March 2002 vol 632 cc822-5

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What impact anti-smoking initiatives are having on the numbers of people giving up smoking and taking up smoking.

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

My Lords, in the first six months of 2001–02, about 104,800 people set a quit date using the NHS smoking cessation services, and 53,500 had successfully given up at the four-week follow-up stage.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. As today is National No Smoking Day, will he join me in congratulating all those noble Lords who in the past year have given up smoking—or indeed not started smoking? Will he also tell us what investigations NICE has conducted into the cost effectiveness of the antismoking strategies and how those strategies compare with strategies to combat other substance misuse?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate all noble Lords who have given up smoking in the past year. I stopped smoking on 28th July, and I am still going strong at the moment—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, both Zyban and nicotine replacement therapy have been referred to NICE, and my understanding is that it will soon reach a conclusion. Unless an appeal is made against its final appraisal determination, that advice will, we hope, be issued very shortly.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord on giving up smoking successfully, may I ask him whether he believes that the Government's anti-smoking initiatives are sufficiently robust and shocking to have an impact on the many teenage girls who take up smoking round about the ages of 13 and 14?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to suggest that teenage smoking, particularly among young girls, is a matter of concern. The Government have a strategy designed to focus particularly on teenage smokers which I believe is effective.

As for the substantive point, on the actual messages given out, I draw the noble Lord's attention to the Smokescreen Youth Initiative, launched last autumn, in which young people themselves produced a set of films that have been shown on television and will soon, we hope, be shown in cinemas. The films are very hard hitting and entail young people talking to young people, and I think that they will be very effective in getting the message over.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's action in increasing tobacco duties has led to increased incentives for illegal smuggling and illegal distribution? Does he also agree that that has worked against the other government measures designed to reduce smoking, particularly by increasing the availability of cigarettes to young people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I do not think that one should underestimate the impact of fiscal policy on smoking habits. As a general point, research has consistently shown that demand for cigarettes is undoubtedly affected by their price. However, the smuggling of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco is a matter of concern to the Government, and we are dealing with it through a tobacco-smuggling strategy. The indications are that Customs and Excise has had some very big successes in the first year of that strategy and has hit its key target of holding the market share of smuggled cigarettes. It has seized 2.8 billion cigarettes and broken up 56 major excise smuggling gangs.

I should add that European Union countries which may have lower duty levels also face smuggling issues. I therefore believe that it is right to have a fiscal policy of discouraging smoking alongside vigorous policies to reduce smuggling.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, as one who is approaching the second anniversary of having given up, may I express my huge relief at no longer being a slave to that horrible weed? May I also say how much fresher I feel, and that I am sure that everyone who approaches me feels the same? I now find that when I approach someone who smokes, I am very conscious of the fact that they do smoke. However, in their approaches to the European Union, what are the Government doing about the subsidies being paid to countries to grow the most filthy, disgusting tobacco that there ever was?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we seem to be taking on the character of a revivalist meeting. However, I know that the matter of EU subsidies causes concern both to noble Lords and to the Government. We have taken up the matter a number of times with the European Union, and we shall continue to press the matter very vigorously.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, as one who has not smoked since the age of 13, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government are any closer to implementing an approved code of practice on passive smoking at work, as recommended by the Health and Safety Commission rather more than two years ago? Has he been following developments in the Irish Republic, where the Irish Government are giving active consideration to banning smoking completely in pubs?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the Government do not seek to go down the route of banning smoking in pubs. We have, however, encouraged the development of a partnership with the hospitality industry which will ensure that non-smokers are protected and that there is a choice of places to eat and drink so that they will not be bothered by other people's smoke. I think that a voluntary approach is desirable.

My noble friend will know that the Government are giving careful consideration to the Health and Safety Commission's proposals in the approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace. As part of that process, the commission has been asked to consider the implications of the code of practice for the hospitality sector and small businesses generally.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, what is the most important step that the Government could take to reduce deaths from smoking?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we continue to press on with our anti-smoking strategy of which the development of smoking cessation services is an important part. We cannot be complacent, but there are encouraging signs on which we need to build.

The Earl of Erroll

My Lords, does the Minister agree that prohibition in the United States did not stamp out drinking and, if anything, encouraged it? It became smart to go underground.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I do not believe that the two matters can be pooled together in the same category. First, smoking is harmful under any circumstances. I believe that a different situation exists in regard to alcohol, particularly for sensible drinkers. Secondly, it is not the Government's intention to make smoking illegal. We seek to ensure that in public places non-smokers, as far as possible, are not subject to passive smoking and we seek to develop programmes to help those who want to give up smoking to do so as effectively as possible.