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Column 787Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Pike, Peter L.
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Jimmy Hood.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham) : I am delighted to be offering the first Adjournment debate of the 1990s. I hope and believe that the 1990s increasingly will become a smoke-free decade. It has started unfortunately with the minority of smokers dictating a dangerous and anti-social environment for the majority. However, I am optimistic that by the end of the decade most public places will be free of that health and environmental hazard.
Smoking is a dangerous, dirty and anti-social habit. It is now practised by only one third of the adult population, but it directly affects the other two thirds. I firmly believe in the principle that people should be free to do what they want subject only to the proviso that they do not harm or injure anyone else. If people want the right to indulge in a habit which they know may damage their health and eventually kill them, that is their right in a free and democratic society. However, when their drug has the same effect on the majority of people who do not smoke, that is not acceptable and is a gross violation of human and civil rights.
This debate is not anti-smoker ; it is pro the legitimate and abused rights of the non-smoking majority. The tobacco lobby may say, "What about the loss of Government revenue from tobacco taxation?" Well, what about it? Nothing that I will suggest this evening will affect that in any way. I do not see how the establishment of non-smoking areas will reduce the consumption of tobacco products when all smokers will continue to be allowed to smoke the same amount as before. They will simply have to do it in certain areas so that they do not pose a danger to the majority who do not smoke. If smoking is reduced as a result of the measures that I will suggest, so much the better for everyone--and for smokers in particular. Tobacco tax could and should be increased to maintain the level of revenue. As we get down to the hardened core of committed smokers, so the demand for tobacco products becomes inelastic at which point the tax can be raised as much as we like --within reason--and that will eventually increase revenue. In any case, I doubt whether the tobacco lobby is in the slightest bit concerned about the level of Government revenue. It merely uses that as a superficial and dishonest debating point.
My debate covers two essential political issues. The first relates to extending and enhancing the rights and freedom of the individual. The second involves the protection of the environment--the green issue.
The majority of people should not have to be subjected to the health risks created by smokers. Mr. Speaker, you are a reasonable man. It is not right that you should have to watch someone else's pollution waft across you in a restaurant and land upon the food which you then must eat. Surely it is not right that you should come out of a pub or a cinema with your clothes and hair reeking of stale smoke. Surely it cannot be right that when you make a journey by train or bus you must sit in a smoke-filled cocoon which may cause eye and nose irritations. Surely it is not right that in one's place of work, where one spends most of one's waking life, one should be subjected to the selfishness of the minority. Surely it is not right that
Column 789schools, which must now have a health education programme, should allow pupils to see teachers create the impression that smoking is just a normal part of the adult lifestyle.
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) called you, Mr. Speaker, a reasonable man. Of course all hon. Members agree with that, but what does my hon. Friend mean by a smoke-filled cocoon? When I go for my walk in the morning, everybody is hurtling around jogging and so on. They are in a smoke-filled world. My hon. Friend talks about smoking killing people. Biased medics will use anything to bolster their bias when they say that smoking kills. What about all the traffic? What about carbon monoxide? Is my hon. Friend so naive as to believe that all that kills is smoking and that carbon monoxide is almost good for us? Does he want to do away with cars, buses, trains and aircraft? Is his bias so built-in that he wants to do away with just us smokers who want to go about our harmless way?
Mr. Amos : If I had been allowed to develop my arguments, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) would have been relieved to hear that they are consistent and to the point. My hon. Friend says that his smoking pastime is harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are all concerned about the environment, but for many people that concern seems to stop short at the frontiers of the external environment and does not seem to extend to the domestic or enclosed environment. I am concerned with what happens to the ozone layer and also with what happens to individuals' lungs and hearts. It is inconsistent and rather pointless for people to worry about the effects of lead in petrol and then spend their working day in a smoke-infested atmosphere, to be followed by a couple of hours in a smoke-infested pub, and finish with an hour or two in a smoke-infested living room, regardless of the effects on their children.
Now is the time for the Government to act, and act positively. The Government are to be applauded for their initiatives to protect the external environment. They are to be encouraged in their involvement in warning the public about the scourge of AIDS and the dangers of drink driving. However, when it comes to smoking, there seems to be an extraordinary reluctance to take any effective action--everything must be voluntary. The tobacco industry's power does not frighten me, but its power to prevent the introduction of any effective measures to protect the majority of people is nothing short of scandalous. It is entirely right that the tobacco industry's voluntary agreement to limit tobacco advertising and sponsorship should be shown for what it is. At a time when under-age smoking is a growing social menace, especially among girls aged 11 to 15, it is quite outrageous that the Committee for Monitoring Agreements on Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship--COMATAS--should be allowed to keep many of its findings confidential. Clearly, tobacco companies have something to hide. Four major studies on how well voluntary agreements are being observed have been kept secret--one on poster advertising near schools, one on sports sponsorship, and two surveys on advertising at confectioners, tobacconists and newsagents. One can only be extremely suspicious of why they have been kept
Column 790secret. It was because tobacco companies kept breaking voluntary agreements that COMATAS was set up. Even so, tobacco companies still broke the agreements 41 times in 1987 alone. Clearly, as a matter of urgency, we must set up a new legally-binding agreement.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State for Health has now agreed to renegotiate the voluntary agreement on advertising and that the role of COMATAS will also be reviewed. COMATAS has limited value in its present role, because tobacco companies can veto the truth if they do not like what it is. This voluntary approach is basically a cop-out and an abdication of responsibility.
The argument that statutory measures cannot work is clearly nonsense, because other countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia have already introduced measures to honour the rights of people in those countries. The argument that statutory measures should not be introduced is a dereliction of duty when one considers the effects of smoking on the culprits and the innocent victims--children, the elderly and the majority of people in general. Deaths from smoking-induced diseases in the United Kingdom, especially lung cancer and other cancers and coronary heart disease and arterial diseases, are 110,000 a year, which is equal to about 15 deaths per hour. It costs the National Health Service over £500 million a year to treat tobacco-related diseases, all of which are preventable, not to mention the time off work due to ill health.
Mr. Amos : They are preventable if people do not smoke. The central consideration must be the rights of the long-suffering majority who should not be expected to live and work in a smoke-infested environment.
In the case of passive smoking, the non-smoker breathes sidestream smoke from the burning tip of a cigarette and mainstream smoke from that which has been inhaled and then exhaled by the smoker. Most people in Britain spend most of their lives indoors and tobacco smoke makes a significant and measurable contribution to the level of indoor air pollution, which is what I am concerned about. We do not have the problem of lead pollution in the home, the workplace or in school.
Tobacco smoke is highly complex and contains thousands of chemicals which are released into the air as particles and gases. Many potentially toxic gases are present in high concentrations in sidestream smoke and
Column 791nearly 85 per cent. of the smoke in a room is sidestream. About 60 of these substances are known or suspected to be carcinogens. How does that affect passive smokers, the people who involuntarily breath in this pollution? As well as causing annoyance by making hair and clothes smell unpleasant, involuntary smoke exposure can cause symptoms such as eye irritation, headache, coughing, sore throat, dizziness and nausea and it produces many small but measurable changes in the air passages of lungs of otherwise healthy adults. Adults with experience of asthma undergo a significant and substantial decline in lung function when exposed to sidestream smoke for one hour. People with allergies and respiratory and heart ailments will be more seriously affected.
The effects of long-term exposure are very serious. In March 1988 the Government's independent scientific committee on smoking and health published its fourth report dealing in particular with the issue of passive smoking. The committee scrutinised studies on the effects of passive smoking and found that the overall findings were consistent with an increased risk of lung cancer in non-smokers of up to 30 per cent. That was independent, scientific medical evidence. When that risk is compared with other cancer risks, it is found that the life-long risk from passive smoking is more than 100 times higher than the estimated effect of 20 years exposure to asbestos that is normally found in buildings.
Many people are involved and some of them are at a greater risk than the general population due to pre-existing cardiac or respiratory conditions and/or prolonged exposure in the home or workplace. There is no safe level of exposure to carcinogens. Recent studies have also found an increased risk of disease other than lung cancer in passive smokers. In addition, young children are at risk. Infants of parents who smoke are more likely to be admitted to hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia in the first year of life. Chronic coughs and phlegm are more frequent among the children of parents who smoke. The Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health said :
"By enhancing the frequency or severity of childhood respiratory illnesses, [passive smoking] could contribute to the development of respiratory disease in adult life among nonsmokers."
The committee also found evidence of an association between exposure to passive smoking and low birth weight and said that, since active smoking confers a hazard on the health of the unborn baby, passive smoking might be expected to confer one also, albeit a smaller one.
On the basis of the independent scientific and medical evidence, the non- smoker should be protected. Experts have concluded that given the public health initiatives to minimise or eliminate involuntary public exposure to other environmental pollutants with less carcinogenic potency than several of the substances in tobacco smoke, similar efforts to prevent involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke are necessary. In the United States of America some 80 per cent. of states restrict smoking in public places and workplace smoking policies have increased dramatically in the 1980s.
Public opinion now demands the provision of a smoke-free environment in five main areas : public transport, public eating places, places of public entertainment, the workplace and schools.
Column 792As you are a learned man, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will be aware that 80 per cent. of the public agree that there should be no smoking on public transport. That includes 67 per cent. of smokers. There have been recent encouraging developments. For example, there is now a total ban on smoking on London Underground. British Airways has introduced a ban on smoking on all its domestic flights by public demand, including that of many smokers. I congratulate British Airways on that move and on putting up with the abuse of the well-heeled Tobacco Advisory Council. The council's only advice seems to be that people should smoke as much as they want because the medical evidence is not conclusive about the health dangers. They say, "Go ahead and smoke because it does not do you any harm." [Interruption] --a view shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak. There is independent medical evidence which some people, to their lasting regret, choose to ignore. That is their choice. The smoking ban on British Airways was introduced despite dire warnings about what would happen to customer demand. The opposite of what was predicted has happened. I, for one, would choose British Airways in preference to other airlines such as Dan Air, all things being equal, because I know that I will not have to take the risk of sitting in a smoke- infested atmosphere.
The challenge to British Airways is to extend the ban to its European and transatlantic flights. In the United States all domestic flights are now smoke-free. Some journeys last up to five hours. The Canadian Government has just announced a smoking ban on all domestic and international flights on all Canadian airlines. So much for the argument that it cannot be done.
Progress is also being made on British Rail. It is time for them to get rid of mixed smoking and non-smoking carriages and compartments. In open coaches the existence of a non-smoking section adjacent to a smoking section is useless. British Rail must reintroduce the concept of smoking carriages which would be easily identified by the fog inside and the empty seats.
Similarly, upper decks of buses divided between smoking and non-smoking sections do not provide a smoke-free environment for the non-smoker. The onus must shift from the privilege of the minority to damage the health and environment of the majority to special provision for the minority in secluded areas so that the rights of the majority can and will be respected.
Some eating places and pubs now give customers a choice. Where areas cannot clearly be demarcated, the onus must shift to the rights of the majority. Eating places should be clean and hygienic in the dining areas as well as in the kitchens. Fast food places are popular, especially with children and young people. It appears that 91 per cent. of the public generally and 89 per cent. of smokers agree that all restaurants should provide no-smoking areas.
Another consideration is entertainment areas. Increasingly, cinemas are making provision for the majority of their customers. The futility of dividing an auditorium into smoking and non-smoking sections has been highlighted. Entire areas should be completely free of smoke infestation.
In the workplace, we are talking again about the rights of the individual-- indeed, the rights of the majority--and concern for the environment. Even 81 per cent. of smokers agree that non-smokers should have the right to work in
Column 793non-polluted areas. The demand is that all United Kingdom workplaces must have an effective smoking policy.
In education, the adult community has an especial responsibility to protect our children from the dangers of passive smoking and the appalling examples which smokers provide. It is about time that we had the guts to end the outrage of continuing tobacco advertising and sponsorship, both of which are designed to encourage people to smoke more. That applies especially to youngsters, who are needed to take up smoking in ever greater numbers as adults continue increasingly to kick the habit. There has been an alarming growth in smoking among young people--I am talking about 15-year-olds-- particularly among girls. I have no doubt that that has been caused by the heavy advertising of the tobacco industry in women's and girls' magazines. The Tobacco Advisory Council has limitless money to take full-page advertisements in the national daily press and evening newspapers--I have some examples with me--which seek to abuse the right of the majority to have clean air and any organisation such as British Airways, which dares to respond to its customers and brave the wrath of the advisory council in order to introduce a clean air policy. The tobacco industry spends about £120 million a year of its obscene profits on advertising plus countless extra millions on sponsorship. Of course, sponsorship is the obvious and easy way to circumvent restrictions on advertising. It is an outrageous abuse when there is tobacco sponsorship of sporting events which are especially impressionable on young people. The aim must be to stop people smoking and to protect people from the influences of the Tobacco Advisory Council in encouraging people to start smoking, especially when set against the massive sums spent by the tobacco industry is the derisory £3 million that is spent on smoking prevention by the Government, together with the welcome extra £10 million that is to be spent over the next five years by the Government on their new teenage anti-smoking campaign.
In December, Mr. Donald Reid, the director of the Health Education Authority, said :
"One million children and teenagers alive today in Britain will eventually die from smoking if the present trend continues." Mr. Beaumont-Dark : That is rubbish.
"At the launch Mr. Reid accused the tobacco industry of refusing to co- operate in moves to cut illegal tobacco sales among the under-16s. The authority had asked companies to cut off supplies of cigarettes to retailers caught selling cigarettes illegally but the tobacco industry had refused."
Mr. Reid added :
"This is not surprising since the industry must recruit 270 children to smoking today--merely to replace the 270 adults who will die from smoking.
The industry knew that if they attracted youngsters aged 11-15 they would keep them for life."
The article continues :
"The HEA's programme will also be targeted at schools with the goal of making all schools non-smoking by 1995.
An HEA booklet which is being distributed to schools claims that children are attracted to smoking through cigarette advertising, tobacco-sponsored sports events and the sophisticated image associated by smoking."
Column 794This is not the time for timidity. As the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health said in March 1988 :
"Passive smoking is a major public health hazard in all public places. Several hundred thousand people will die in the UK as a result of being forced to breathe in other people's tobacco smoke." Mr. Beaumont-Dark : More rubbish.
Mr. Amos : My hon. Friend shouts "More rubbish", but my remarks happen to be true. We are dealing with a serious matter which puts lives at risk and which concerns an anti-social habit. The public have a right to hear my remarks, rather than for me to be shouted down or abused by the power of the tobacco industry--though it scares me not one jot. I quoted independent scientific and medical advice. Several hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom will die as the result of being forced to breathe other people's tobacco smoke. Those suffering from asthma and bronchitis are severely affected, as smoke irritates the eyes, nose and throat. It also makes clothes, hair, furniture and other objects reek of stale smoke. There is overwhelming public demand for a cleaner environment in buildings as well as outside, not only among non-smokers but among many smokers themselves, who recognise the problem--
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Mr. Amos : Many smokers themselves recognise the problems associated with smoking and may welcome the opportunity that a ban would provide to help them give up their habit. Such a ban could serve as an inducement. The Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health remarked in 1988 :
"Non-smoking should be regarded as the norm in enclosed areas frequented by the public or employees, special provision being made for smokers rather than vice-versa."
In 1986 the World Health Organisation commented :
"Passive smoking violates the right to health of non-smokers, who must be protected against this noxious form of environmental pollution."
None of that can happen unless the Government accept their responsibility to introduce legislation and stop relying on so-called voluntary measures, which in many cases do not work and never can work properly. We know that passive smoking is 100 times more dangerous than breathing in asbestos dust. We should remember the outcry when asbestos is discovered in a building. It is immediately closed to the public and suitably protected workmen are called in to remove the asbestos.
There will always be a significant number of people who will not respond to voluntary measures--as one finds in restaurants when a selfish smoker is clearly causing distress to non-smokers at an adjacent table--and legislation has been tried, and works, in countries and cities throughout
Column 795the world, including the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Norway and Spain. Those countries have laws guaranteeing some form of protection for non-smokers that have overwhelming public support and are effective.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health on his genuine and strong personal commitment to the cause that I support. I hope that the debate will strengthen his hand in bringing about new measures and in using whatever influence he can bring to bear in ensuring a clean and safe environment. The message is simple. Legislation can be used, is being used and should continue to be used. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable and we should all act on public opinion, take the lead, and provide a clean, safe and healthy environment.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) stated that we should heed the majority, but there is of course also a minority--and they too hold an opinion. I do not approve of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) catcalling the hon. Member for Hexham when he was putting his case. However, I must admit that when I am seated behind the hon. Member for Selly Oak when he is smoking his pipe, more often than not I really enjoy the aroma and sense of flavour that reaches me. Other right hon. and hon. Members also smoke pipes, and I enjoy the sensation as much as they do.
The hon. Member for Hexham is being a little dictatorial. We have just got rid of a dictator in Romania, but here we go again. I believe that we are seeing the thin end of a very thick wedge. That is what is happening. If the hon. Member for Hexham persuades the Government to do what he has suggested, he, or some of his colleagues, will move on. They will have a total ban on smoking. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head and agreeing with me. If his constituency was in Bristol or Nottinghamshire he would not have made that speech, but would have kidded someone else into making it. Both those cities have massive tobacco factories.
I do not live in or represent a constituency in Nottingham ; my constituency is outside the city. A number of my constituents work in the tobacco industry in Nottingham. I am surprised that I do not see one or two Conservative Members who represent constituencies in Nottinghamshire in their places, or standing up for the industry. I am here to defend the tobacco industry, but there are no Conservative Members representing Nottingham or Bristol here. The little fellow who sits up yonder is not here now, but he ought to have been here to defend his constituents and the jobs available to them in the tobacco industry.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) rose--
The hon. Member for Hexham did not write his speech. A voluntary organisation wrote it for him.
Mr. Haynes : I shall not withdraw it. I have heard that speech before. It came from an organisation that is against smoking ; it is called Action on Smoking and Health. I am sure that the hon. Member for Selly Oak has also heard it before. The hon. Member for Hexham may wag his head. He was agreeing with me and now he is disagreeing, but I have heard that speech time and again.
I am defending the rights of the individual too. There is a minority in this land who wish to smoke. If the hon. Member for Hexham considers other countries he will find that they are in the same boat--they have minorities and some have majorities. The hon. Gentleman has not been here very long and he has a lot to learn. Hon. Members do not get away with the things that he has suggested tonight. I am not saying that he is not out of nappies yet, but he has a lot to learn.
I have listened to the Under-Secretary speak on many occasions in many debates, including those on smoking. I congratulate him on his work for health since he left the Ministry of Defence, although I am an Opposition Member. I praise the Under-Secretary, but I do not praise the hon. Member for Hexham, because if he lies in bed tonight and considers what he has said, he will probably have a different opinion in the morning. He should consider what I have said about jobs and the rights of the minority. He is favouring the majority. 10.9 pm