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Tobacco Advertising And Promotion

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 March 1996

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3.9 p.m.

What is their assessment of the working of the voluntary agreement between the Department of Health and the tobacco companies about tobacco advertising and promotion.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, the annual reports produced by the committee which monitors the voluntary agreements (COMATAS) show that the tobacco companies have a good record of compliance with those agreements.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, does the noble Baroness agree that there is disturbing evidence that the number of young people who smoke, especially teenagers between the ages of 11 and 15, is increasing; that the latest figures show that 21 per cent. of all 11 to 15 year-olds smoke; and that there is a loophole in the voluntary agreement in that there is still a great deal of sports sponsorship by tobacco companies, as well as sponsorship of individual sporting entrants? Is not that loophole a contributory factor to encouraging young people to take up smoking?

My Lords, there is a marginal increase in young people smoking, but it is mostly among young girls and not young boys.

The sports sponsorship agreement is a new agreement. The noble Lord will be aware that it was introduced at the end of January this year. It includes no sponsorship of activities in which the majority of participants are under 18, or activities which are designed to appeal in particular to audiences under 18; no advertisements for sponsored events are to be posted within 200 metres of the front entrance of schools; and the contents of advertisements for such sponsored events are to follow the spirit of the cigarette code.

We have taken action. The agreement only came into existence in January. Therefore it is unlikely to have had much effect yet.

My Lords, will my noble friend consider requesting a review yet again of the provision which allows smoking in all parts of the Library in your Lordships' House? I appreciate that the matter has been considered many times. I refer to the effects of passive smoking. Will the Minister confirm that smoking positively or passively is very harmful to health?

My Lords, I should hate to dictate whether or not your Lordships should smoke. Tobacco is a legal substance. I am aware that these matters are dealt with by the appropriate committee of your Lordships' House.

As regards the dangers of smoking, my noble friend is right. It is irrefutable that smoking damages your health. That is why we have the most comprehensive strategy for anti-smoking in the world.

My Lords, has the Minister discussed the Question with her noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish? Does she recall that in replying recently to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he stressed that smoking during pregnancy was an important cause for low birth weight babies. The Minister raised the issue of an increase in smoking among young girls and women. As the voluntary agreement is obviously not working as regards discouraging smoking in an at-risk group, will the Government think again on the issue?

My Lords, we have a campaign running at present. The sum of £14 million was invested in this area. We have only just launched the campaign. We shall see what impact it has. The noble Baroness is right. Smoking in pregnancy has an effect on the birth of young babies. Perhaps that is not an issue of enormous importance to your Lordships' House.

My Lords, I declare an interest. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government will not bother about this issue. After all, we do not present any danger to babies. The suggestions of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on this issue are surely a little rough.

My Lords, I in no way wish to intrude on the habits of your Lordships in this House. However, it is right that every member of the British public should have the right information about the dangers of smoking. To put out the information, and especially to target it at young people, is part of the Government's strategy.

My Lords, following the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lord Dubs on the sports issue, why do not the Government follow the very good example of the Australians, a country where sport is very important? Is the Minister aware that after the Tobacco Advertising Act 1992 in that country, the Government supported health promotion foundations in order that the money previously donated to sport through tobacco advertising came from other sources.

My Lords, we have this agreement on sports sponsorship with the tobacco industry. A case is often put—I do not believe that it is made—that advertising should be banned generally. However, when we consider the progress of this country compared with other European countries it is interesting to see that we have made greater progress than any other European country except the Netherlands which also does not have an advertising ban.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the great disincentives to smoking is herbal tobacco which is horrible?

My Lords, I hope that the Government, and indeed Members of your Lordships' House, are not in danger of becoming hypocritical on this issue. I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that the social problems arising from drink and excess drink are extremely serious. They involve child battering; wife battering; the killing on the roads of 500 people every year, and the injuring of 10,000; stabbing outside public houses and all kinds of social evils. Yet we have now agreed, apparently with government approval, to spirits being advertised on television whereas previously they were banned. Let us have some equality in the matter.

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord is correct in his last statement. I shall check it. The Government in no way want a nanny state. We shall not tell people what to do or how to live their lives. That is not part of the Government's role. We ensure that people have the information.

We have very stringent laws on drink driving. We enforce those laws. The noble Lord will be aware of the enormous progress that we have made in that field.

My Lords, £14 million has been spent on campaigns to dissuade young people from smoking and those campaigns have had no effect. That indicates that it is rather a waste of money. Other campaigns have also been ineffective in that age group. Would it not be far better—it would cost no money—for the Government to ban sports sponsorship, as has been suggested, and to forbid other forms of tobacco advertising?

My Lords, perhaps I should correct the noble Lord. The £14 million is for a comprehensive campaign for all sections of the population which will last over three years. Of that £14 million, £3 million has been set aside in particular for young people. That contract has only just been let. The work has not yet started. We shall not see the results for a while.

We are making progress in this field. Twenty years ago, nearly half the population smoked; today the figure is just over a quarter. We are making progress. It would be wrong for your Lordships to feel that we are not and that an advertising or sponsorship ban is the answer. We know from countries which have those bans that they are not effective. We work with the tobacco industry with very stringent agreements which it enforces and which we know to be successful.