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Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the health risks from smoking hand-rolled tobacco are the same as those from smoking manufactured cigarettes.

My Lords, there is limited information on the health risks associated with smoking hand-rolled cigarettes relative to manufactured cigarettes. However, some studies have suggested that smokers of hand-rolled cigarettes are more vulnerable to developing oral and throat cancer as well as being vulnerable to other smoking-related diseases.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the consumption of hand-rolling tobacco has risen sharply in recent years with as many as 34 per cent of male smokers now using it, particularly men from disadvantaged social groups? Does he also recall that, in 2004, the Chief Medical Officer drew attention to the comparative cheapness of hand-rolling tobacco in relation to manufactured cigarettes resulting from the very wide disparity in excise duty between the two product types? What representations has the Department of Health made to the Treasury since 2004 on this subject, which has major implications for public health?

My Lords, this is a relevant Question on No Smoking Day, and the noble Earl is absolutely right to draw attention to the increased use of hand-rolled cigarettes, which I suspect is due to a variety of reasons. He is also right to suggest that hand-rolled cigarettes are cheaper than cigarettes in packets. The duty on hand-rolled tobacco is lower, but since 2001 the tax has increased at the same rate. If we were to raise duty on hand-rolled tobacco to the same level as that on cigarettes there is a risk that smuggling would increase, so the decision has been made to leave the differential but to increase duty at the same rate. That has happened since 2001.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that very many prisoners in Her Majesty's prisons smoke roll-ups? Should there not be more health education about the dangers of smoking in our prisons?

My Lords, the noble Baroness draws attention to one of the many health issues for prisoners and she is right to do so. As she will know, the health service has taken on much greater responsibility for healthcare in prisons, which has led to an injection of both resources and the skills of NHS professionals. I certainly take her point and agree that preventive programmes with prisoners are very important.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the statement today by the chief executive of No Smoking Day that a 20-a-day smoker will save £1,800 a year if they give up now? If they take advantage of National Health Service stop-smoking services, they are four times more likely to remain off the habit.

My Lords, it would be hard to disagree with my noble friend on that matter. It is worth pointing out that in the past few years there has been a reduction in the smoking rate in this country, from 28 per cent in 1998 to 24 per cent in 2005. We cannot be complacent, but we are hopeful that we can get the target and get that figure down still further in future.

My Lords, how does the Minister justify the statement that the Government are doing all they can to stop and reduce smoking, as I believe they are, when more than half of PCTs have frozen or cut their budgets for non-smoking exercises?

My Lords, these matters are for primary care trusts, but the figures that I have suggest that total expenditure on smoking cessation services for the NHS in the first six months of the 2006-07 financial year was £23.6 million. That compares with £23.2 million for the first six months of the previous year, which suggests that PCTs are continuing to invest in those essential services.

My Lords, I am pleased to hear my noble friend say that smoking has gone down from 28 per cent to 24 per cent, but can he advise the House how that reduction is distinguished as between men and women?

My Lords, I am happy to report that. In 2001, 28 per cent of men smoked. That is now down to 25 per cent. The figure for women in 2001 was 27 per cent. That is now down to 25 per cent. We are making progress with both men and women.

My Lords, what measures will the Government take to enforce the smoking ban in England later this year? How will they ensure that it is successful quickly and is not avoided?

My Lords, we are very hopeful that the smoke-free legislation, alongside the advertising ban, will have a long-term impact in reducing the number of smokers. It is estimated that the advertising ban should reduce tobacco consumption in the long term by 2.5 per cent and that the smoke-free legislation will result in a 1.7 per cent fall in smoking prevalence. We hope that all those who provide premises in which smoking takes place will co-operate. We have no reason to think that the majority of responsible businesses and other service providers will not co-operate, but we are working hard with local government and enforcement officers to make sure that appropriate enforcement action can be taken where that is not the case.

My Lords, since the experience in Scotland was that you did not need to spend any money to enforce the measure because the trade was responsible, why have the Government allocated £30 million to local government in England to enforce it? Is the Minister aware that hookah pipes use hand-rolled tobacco? If there is to be research, members of ethnic communities, who increasingly smoke hookah pipes, will need to know in-depth the exact implications for their health.

My Lords, we should acknowledge the success of the efforts in Scotland. None the less, resources should be made available to local authorities to ensure that they are able to take the appropriate enforcement action. I believe that the voluntary approach works best when it is known that there is a backstop of enforcement actions. That is the balanced approach we want to take—to encourage voluntarism but to have enforcement action as a backstop.