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Smoking In Public Places

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

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9.1 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the smoking of tobacco products in the auditoria of cinemas and theatres during performances.
I resist the encouragement of hon. Members to make my Ten-Minute Bill speech last at least a quarter of an hour. I say at once that the Bill allows those attending cinemas and theatres who wish to smoke to do so during intervals, intermissions and other breaks in performances in parts of the cinema and theatre other than the auditoria.

The majority of British adults are nonsmokers. The Bill is designed to protect the majority in our community from the ill winds that blow across them from smokers in cinemas and theatres. I have been asked by a number of hon. Members whether I consider that the Bill should have been extended to cover other areas where smoking can cause discomfort and annoyance to others. I thought that it was advisable to ask the House to agree to accept the principle that smoking is particularly annoying to people who find themselves in relatively confined spaces for a relatively long time. I regard the inconvenience and irritation caused to smokers and non-smokers alike in the confined auditoria of cinemas and theatres for up to three and a half hours as specific annoyances, and I hope that the House will agree with that view.

I have received a number of letters and messages from those who have seen public references to the Bill. All except one agree with what is proposed in the Bill. A number of members of the public have written indicating that they think that smoking should be banned in many public places, such as public transport, restaurants and cafes.

Evidence that has recently been produced indicates that Britain has the highest rate of lung cancer in the world and that Britain is among the countries with the highest number of sufferers from the other three killers—coronary heart disease, bronchitis and emphysema. I think that when we are presented with evidence of that magnitude we should do whatever we can to encourage those who are trying to draw to the attention of the public the dangers of smoking and the dangers that are caused, to a limited extent, to non-smokers by those who smoke.

The World Health Organisation expert committee report on smoking control, "Controlling the Smoking Epidemic", in its recommendations addressed to all countries last year, said:
"Non-smoking should be regarded as the normal social behaviour and that all action which can promote the development of this attitude be taken."
I think that the House would be regarded as having acted wisely in response to that recommendation if it were to agree to this measure.

I should like to refer to a recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine of 27 March this year. That report referred to the problems of smoking in public places, and particularly to what is known as "passive smoking". Many of the chemical substances contained in tobacco smoke have marked irritant properties that cause nose, throat and eye irritation. This is particularly unpleasant when sitting in a confined space such as a theatre or a cinema.

Even for those in relatively good health, cigarette smoke is an irritant. For those who are in poor health —particularly those with bronchial complaints—the presence of considerable amounts of smoke in the atmosphere they breathe, possibly for two or three hours, is unsatisfactory. That is a problem on which I believe the House should comment.

In my view, we should do whatever we can to make the atmosphere in cinemas, theatres and other public places as pleasant and as fresh as possible. The removal of smoke pollutants from that atmosphere would help enormously. I am tempted to draw the attention of the House to all the other areas where I believe a degree of control would be helpful. I have been accused by those who smoke of proposing some sort of infringement of their civil rights and their liberty to smoke. Having referred to the fact that the majority of the adult population are non-smokers, I think that those who smoke should have proper regard for the feelings of the majority and curtail their anti-social behaviour accordingly.

There are a number of matters that have come to the attention of those who follow the effects of smoking, among them recent surveys that have indicated quite clearly that, among smokers and non-smokers alike, a majority in the community are in favour of further restrictions in order to improve the general health of the community. For those reasons, I believe that the Bill should have support.

In conclusion, I thank ASH—Action Campaign on Smoking and Health—for the helpful advice and support it has given to me. I thank also my parliamentary colleagues, of all parties, who are members of the parliamentary group that supports ASH for the help they have given to me. I have pleasure, therefore, in seeking the recommendation of the House for the measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Sever, Mrs. Ann Taylor, Mr. J. W. Rooker, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mrs. Sheila Faith, Mr. D. E. Thomas, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Gerald Kaufman and Mr. Laurie Pavitt.

Smoking In Public Places (Prohibition)

Mr. John Sever accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the smoking of tobacco products in the auditoria of cinemas and theatres during performances: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 July and to be printed. [Bill 182.]