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Smoking: Protection Of The Young

Volume 477: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1986

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2.42 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what agreement they have reached with the tobacco industry to protect the young.

My Lords, the protection of the young is a prime aim of the latest voluntary agreement on cigarette advertising which came into effect on 1st April.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for what sounds a very encouraging reply. May I ask her whether the agreement is more far-reaching than earlier agreements?

Yes, my Lords; there are a number of innovations. In the first place, the industry itself, under this agreement, is to spend £1 million a year over the course of the agreement; in other words, spending will amount to about £3½ million in a drive to encourage support for the law. This campaign is intended to be far more comprehensive in its coverage than any previous effort of this type and involves media advertising and teams of merchandisers as well as direct mailing of material for display in shops. In addition, there is a ban on cigarette advertising on cinema screens, a ban on advertising in magazines widely read by young women, and other restraints on advertising such as posters near schools and at road shows and air shows.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether any of these pieces of information are targeted directly at the pregnant mother? Does she agree that the major damage to the young is probably done during the period while they are still carried in the womb of mothers who persist in smoking, perhaps without realising the damage they are doing to the unborn child?

My Lords, targeting on the young in terms of this voluntary agreement was aimed at the school children population, where there is some evidence that there may be a trend to more smoking. The general campaign of the Government against encouraging smoking is targeted at other areas which include pregnant mothers.

My Lords, do the Government accept the latest figures of a very authoritative person, Professor Dole—I think that is his name—that 90 per cent. of all lung cancer deaths are due to smoking?

My Lords, the Government take note of all surveys and reports on this very important topic. Since this particular Question is directed at campaigns concerning the young, I think it is encouraging to note that at least in the post-school population of 16 to 19 year-olds there has been a steady decline in smoking among teenagers in that particular age group.

My Lords, is there not an increase among children at school? Is it not quite clear that advertising, whether it be on posters or in publications or televison sponsorship of sports, is the most effective way of drawing cigarettes to the attention of children? Is it not clear that unless something is done about that in an agreement the purposes that the noble Baroness stated cannot be achieved? Can we be assured that the Bill now before the House, directed particularly towards discouraging smoking among young people, will be effectively implemented to stop the sale of cigarettes to school kids?

My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to the Private Member's Bill, currently before the House, that is concerned with the protection of children, certainly the Government are supporting that Bill which is intended to prevent sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to young people. I am sure the noble Lord has read the latest voluntary agreement against advertising which is available in the Library. We believe that we have achieved more by our voluntary agreements than some countries that have legislated against cigarette advertising, and the statistics bear out that evidence.

My Lords, is it not remarkable that an industry has signed a succession of voluntary agreements seriously curtailing its sales? Is it not remarkable that it spends money from its own resources on discouraging the young smoker? Is it not perhaps up to improved discipline in the schools by those who have a responsibility for discipline to stop very young people smoking in the schools, as is currently being done?

My Lords, I agree that influence from whatever direction is much to be welcomed. The difficulty in this area is that cigarette advertising is often cited as a direct cause of youngsters taking up smoking, but in fact there is little direct evidence to support that. The causes seem to be much more complex—peer group pressure and adolescent experimentation among them. Obviously the Government's campaign and the Health Education Council's campaign, which is supported by the Government, are directed at influencing teachers, parents and others who can influence young people not to start smoking.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us how successful the campaign has been in reducing total consumption? Does she have the figures?

Yes, my Lords. The total figures, which I have somewhere, show a decline in smoking overall. The concern of the Government and the concern of the original Question was to prevent any increase among the young, where there was some cause for concern that there might be an increasing trend. But overall there is concrete evidence that the voluntary agreements and the campaigns against smoking have produced positive results.

Yes, my Lords; my noble friend the Minister is quite right. My concern was particularly with the young. On that point can she tell me whether the ban applies to those unpleasant things called Skoal Bandits?

My Lords, the habit of snuff-dipping, or Skoal Bandits, is the subject of a new voluntary agreement which requires the use of health warnings and further marketing restrictions. This voluntary agreement is still under discussion, but it is also a matter within the province of the Private Member's Bill to which we have already referred, which imposes a restriction on sales of these products to young people under 16.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the anti-smoking lobby is now terrifically strong in this country? I have been smoking cigarettes since I was 13 and I am now 87. Can she assure me that I will not be made an outlaw before long in my own country because I smoke cigarettes?

My Lords, I am only too well aware of the anti-smoking lobby in this country, and I am very pleased that the noble Lord has taken the place of the late Lord Shinwell who was constantly making remarks of this kind. The Government do not in any way intend to ban smoking. What they are trying to do under the present arrangements is to discourage people from starting to smoke.

My Lords, has my noble friend any information about juveniles smoking pipes, as mentioned by the late Lord Shinwell?

My Lords, the answer is, no. But 1 shall try to help my noble friend by making further inquiries and letting him know about this.