HC Deb 03 March 1982 vol 19 cc172-3W
Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has had further discussions with the tobacco industry about promotion of cigarettes; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler

The health risks of smoking cigarettes axe well known. It is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in the United Kingdom, responsible for at least 50,000 early deaths each year. It costs the NHS about £150 million per annum to treat smoking-related disease, and it loses the country something like 50 million working days each year.

The advertising and promotion of cigarettes are governed by voluntary agreements between the Government and the industry. One agreement covers expenditure on posters, health warnings, and the tar yield of cigarettes. A separate agreement deals with sports sponsorship by tobacco companies and is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Government wish to continue by effective voluntary agreements. As the existing agreement on posters and warnings comes to an end this summer, I have been discussing this with the tobacco companies. I have deliberately done so in the broad context of prevention.

The industry recognises it is important to encourage responsible personal attitudes to maintain good health and that people should heed balanced advice aiming at preventing ill-health. It is particularly concerned with young people. In response to my suggestions, it has undertaken to demonstrate its support in a new and practical way and is prepared to fund relevant independent research in the United Kingdom. A joint working group is being set up to develop specific proposals and ensure the independent character of the programme. I have been assured by the industry that it wishes to make progress on this and that it expects to provide £3 million a year for these purposes over the duration of a new voluntary agreement, as soon as the working group puts forward mutually acceptable proposals.

These arrangements will not affect in any way the support that the Government and the NHS already give to health education. They will be a valuable supplement in the research field. I hope, therefore, that by the autumn the whole project will be under way, by which time all outstanding issues regarding the renewal of the voluntary agreement will have been resolved.

The industry has confirmed that the discussions on a new agreement on cigarette advertising and the display of Government health warnings, will cover further controls on advertising, and also better presentation of the Government's health warnings.

Part of the existing agreement relates to modification of cigarettes to give a lower tar content. This expires at the end of 1983. We expect to have the advice of the independent scientific committee on smoking and health later this year. Discussions will take place on further product modification after 1983 in the light of that advice.