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Smoking And Health

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 28 March 1996

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3.8 p.m.

Whether, in the light of the 121st birthday of Mme. Jeanne Calment last month, they will modify the health warnings on cigarette packets.

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

No, my Lords. While I applaud Mme. Calment's achievement in becoming the world's oldest person, I do not accept that her longevity is in any way attributable to her liking for an occasional cigarette.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that ingenious reply. Is she aware that Mme. Calment was advised at the age of 117 to give up smoking on the grounds that it was bad for her health? She was so miserable that after a year she started again, in moderation, on her 118th birthday and has not looked back since. She is now the oldest person in the world. Does the Minister agree that it seems to prove that a little of what you fancy does you good? To show that this is not a one-off, does she further agree that the Greeks are the heaviest smokers in the world yet they have the longest life expectancy in Europe?

My Lords, I understand that a number of studies have been carried out on the Greek diet and that that also has an effect. I also understand that Mme. Calment drinks wine, eats chocolate cake, and is not unlike my noble friend Lady Trumpington whom we know to be indestructible.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the Exchequer were to lose the duty on tobacco and cigarettes it would mean the standard rate of income tax having to be increased by 4p in the pound to make up the deficit?

My Lords, it is the Government's policy to increase the duty on cigarettes.

It has a direct correlation to the numbers of people who give up smoking. The higher the price, the less people are likely to smoke.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on my pipe-smoking package it says, "Smoking causes cancer"? That is in accordance with the cancer directive 92/41. But that is not necessarily so. Is the Minister aware also that Lord Shinwell puffed a pipe every day until he was 100 years of age; Lord Brockway puffed a pipe every day until he was 99; and the average age of the Peers in this House who belong to the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers Club is over 70? Does not the Minister agree therefore that we should remove the slogan on cigarette packets and replace it with one that says, "Smoke a pipe and live longer"?

My Lords, I had a distinguished father-in-law who used to say, "Moderation in all things, and not too much of that." I suspect that that is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mason. However, perhaps I should be serious and remind your Lordships that 110,000 people in this country die prematurely every year as a result of smoking-related diseases. It is a real danger, and it is right that we should warn people on posters and on cigarette packets.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that just because one person has been lucky enough to play Russian roulette and get away with it, others should not be encouraged to take equivalent risks? As the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Mason, do not appear to understand the statistics in relation to the risk, is there not a case for expanding the warning on cigarette packets to give details of the morbidity and mortality arising from cigarette smoking so that people can make comparisons with the healthy existence of non-smokers?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in what he says in the first part of his question. We have looked at the size of warnings on cigarette packets. At the moment the European directive specifies that the warning should cover at least 4 per cent. of each large surface of the packet; in fact, in the UK we demand 6 per cent.

My Lords, as cigarettes kill around 100,000 people compared with BSE which has killed only 10 and all the cattle have had to be slaughtered, does not a ban on all smoking become even more necessary?

My Lords, with regard to BSE, it has been proven through science that the risks of eating beef are infinitesimal. We should not perhaps enter upon that subject; a debate is tabled for quite soon.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the figures she gives are wholly bogus? They are not based on scientific fact. Will she also allow the Department of Health to state the truth? Active smokers actually live longer without senile dementia and Alzheimer's Disease than people who do not smoke. In fact they live around five years longer and do not occupy hospital beds as a result.

My Lords, will the Minister point out to her noble friends who do not like scientific evidence or large numbers and seem to prefer to deal with case histories that they should take the opportunity to do a ward round with any chest physician in any district general hospital? They will meet some of the real people who have suffered the terrible effects in health terms of smoking. Will she also point out that although there may be tax revenue advantages from people smoking, there is huge expenditure in the National Health Service in dealing with the effects of smoking-related diseases?

My Lords, yes. It is not only chest diseases. One only needs to visit people who have had limbs amputated through the effects of smoking to see how distressing the situation can be. Of course, the cost to the NHS is enormous.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there may be hundreds of cases where people have smoked all their lives and nothing much seems to have happened to them? However, the British Medical Association says that there is no doubt whatever that a serious link exists between lung cancer and people who inhale tobacco.

My Lords, the British Medical Association has fought this case long and hard. There is no doubt whatever that smoking does damage one's health. Studies have been carried out with regard to Alzheimer's Disease which show that there may be marginal benefits. However, those are far outweighed by the risks to general health.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that for many years the Department of Health claimed that 50,000 people a year died through the effects of smoking tobacco? Overnight that was doubled to 100,000 and then, realising that that was a suspiciously round figure, it was pushed up to 110,000. In the light of those widely varying statistics, is the Minister surprised at the suspicion of my noble friend Lord Wyatt of Weeford when he hears those figures?

My Lords, I have no reason whatever to question the scientific evidence for the figures.

My Lords, rather than concentrating on the good luck of one old lady, would it not be more helpful to think about the numbers of 15 year-old girls who unfortunately are taking up smoking? Do the Government have any proposals to try to reduce the numbers of girls aged 15 who smoke? The figure has gone up by 10 per cent. since 1988 when the new health promotion activities began.

My Lords, we have been encouraged by the reduction in the numbers of people who smoke except for young girls. We are about to launch a £3 million campaign targeted particularly at young girls. We know that a number of factors are involved such as weight, how they look, confidence and so forth. We will be working with youth culture in order to try to combat smoking.