HL Deb 12 March 2003 vol 645 cc1306-8

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Gale

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people have successfully given up smoking due to the smoking cessation services; and how many people they would expect to give up smoking if smoking were to be banned in all workplaces.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, between April 1999 and September 2002, over 481,000 people set a date to quit smoking with the help of NHS smoking cessation services. When followed up four weeks later, nearly 245,000 had successfully quit. There is good evidence that smoke-free workplaces encourage smokers to quit or to reduce consumption. Precise figures are not available for the United Kingdom.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Today is No Smoking Day so I ask the Minister what strategies are in place to assist people to give up smoking, bearing in mind that in the interests of promoting a healthy workforce, more effort should be made to protect people from passive smoking? Is she aware that sensitive groups, such as the 2 million people in this country who suffer from asthma, are affected by passive smoking in the workplace and that it could be a barrier to employment? Does she agree that more measures should be put in place to protect such people?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords. I can think of no better way to mark No Smoking Day than for the no smoking champion of the House of Lords to ask such a Question. We are committed to informing people about the dangers of passive smoking and to encouraging them in their workplace to persuade their employers to withdraw smoking facilities. We are funding new research projects to find out what employers can and will do in different workplaces, including small and medium enterprises where there is a real problem. The Department of Health is co-ordinating and funding tobacco control alliances in local areas to persuade people of the dangers of passive smoking. More recently we have been putting together new packages of public education and information resources in the media to raise awareness.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the Minister welcome, as I do, the World Health Organisation's draft convention on tobacco control? Does she recognise that as the first such global public health measure it is a significant breakthrough? Even though it has its limitations, will the Government sign up to it in May?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, we certainly support the convention and have supported it all along. Some of our provisions are ahead of the convention. There are 192 countries involved which is excellent and we shall give it our full support.

Lord Peston

My Lords, is your Lordships' House defined as a workplace? If so, is it not about time—particularly today—that we gave a lead on this matter and banned smoking throughout these premises?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the definition of the House of Lords as a workplace is fraught with difficulty. I cannot give a definitive answer on that. Recently we have had before us some revolutionary proposals. However, there may still be a whiff of cordite in the air, so we shall have to wait to see what the House authorities think about it.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the 2001 official survey, Smoking related behaviour and attitudes, which among other findings, found that only 9 per cent of people worked in places, including the open air, where there were no restrictions on smoking? I declare an interest as a paid-up member of the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers' Club. Can the Minister give an assurance that such minority interests will not continue to be victimised?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I believe that 3 million people still work in environments where smoking is permitted and are affected by smoking. While we respect the rights of the individual, we are concerned that passive smoking is dangerous and we are doing all that we can to encourage employers and employees to create smoke-free environments.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the Motion passed in the National Assembly for Wales, promoted by Mr Alun Pugh Assembly Member, that indicated that the Assembly demanded or requested primary legislation in Westminster to enable the Assembly to regulate smoking in public places in Wales. Will the Minister indicate whether there has been discussion within government at Westminster on this matter and whether it is likely that time will be made available in both Houses of Parliament for such important legislation to be enacted?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, today is an auspicious day on which to say that Wales has often been a source of inspiration, as has Ireland where there is to be a public ban on smoking. Wales has made a decision in principle that it would like to have such a measure and the matter is before the Secretary of State for Wales.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while the measures on workplace smoking that she has announced are welcome, there is still considerable concern about the delay in government implementation of the approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace? Is she aware that that is of concern not only to those trying to quit smoking, but also to those who cannot, but want to, exercise the freedom not to work in a smoke-filled environment and to those who are at risk of death and disease from passive smoking?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I respect the noble Baroness's role in promoting the effects of passive smoking particularly in relation to cancer. We are still consulting on the advisory code of practice. We want to get it right, particularly for the small and medium enterprises that are often located in areas of poverty and disadvantage. We will carry on as speedily as possible with the prospect of introducing it.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, can my noble friend indicate how many people in the United Kingdom she expects will die during the next 12 months as a result of active and passive smoking respectively?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the annual figure for deaths from smoking is about 120,000. However, we are looking at the smoking cessation service that we have introduced—I do not want to puff the Government too much—and other countries are judging it to be world class. We hope that that figure will reduce.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that an unfortunate side effect of firms operating no smoking policies in the workplace is that people smoke outside buildings and to enter those buildings one has to walk through an ashtray? Can the Government think of a way to persuade those who operate no smoking polices to provide ashtrays for their employees to use?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I agree. There are few more pathetic sights than to see people standing in the road outside buildings smoking. I am pleased to say that as of the end of the month the Department of Health will have closed all its smoking rooms. We are promoting that idea across Whitehall, although I do not believe that we shall provide ashtrays outside buildings.

Lord Carter

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that their policy for achieving a reduction in the number of people who smoke is reaching lower income families and other socially disadvantaged groups?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords. We have always treated attending to such groups who smoke as a priority. There is a higher concentration of smokers at the lower income scale. The health action areas will prioritise and through our research we have noticed that we are making more impression among those on income support than among others.