Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 599)

THURSDAY 13 JANUARY 2000

MR MARTIN BROUGHTON, MR PETER WILSON, MR GARETH DAVIS, MR DAVID DAVIES AND DR AXEL GIETZ

Chairman

  580. Could I just say before you answer, I am conscious we have kept you here for almost three hours now. I hope to finish by 1.30 so could you be brief with your answers because we have one or two more questions after this. If you could be sharp with your answers I would be very grateful.
  (Mr Broughton) I do not know that research. It totally contradicts the research which I have quoted to Mr Gunnell.
  (Mr Wilson) It may depend on the form in which the nicotine was administered. I am totally unaware of that research.
  (Mr David Davies) I am not familiar with it.
  (Mr Gareth Davis) No. I am not aware of it.
  (Dr Gietz) I am not aware of that research but to equate heroin and cocaine to nicotine I think flies in the face of common sense.

Mr Austin

  581. Can I go back to this question of choice. I am an informed adult who chooses not to use cigarettes but if we had finished at one I would have gone down to the cafeteria for my lunch where I would not have had such a choice as to whether I consume tobacco smoke or not. I want to move to the question of environmental tobacco smoke. We have heard some comment about whether there is evidence of cause or not. There is no agreed evidence that cigarette smoke causes asthma, for example, but if you talk to the National Asthma Campaign the most common story that comes from children with asthma is that cigarette smoke is the principal trigger of their asthma attack. It may not have caused it but it triggered it. There has been a report by the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, The SCOTH Report. I want to ask you if you accept the findings of the SCOTH Report which state "... exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of lung cancer ... a cause of heart diseases ... smoking in the presence of infants and children is a cause of serious respiratory illness and asthmatic attacks. Sudden infant death syndrome ... is associated with exposure to ETS". Would you accept the findings of the SCOTH Report and, if not, on what grounds would you reject them?
  (Mr Wilson) I think the answer to your question is no. There have been numerous studies done on the impact on lung cancer and other diseases of environmental tobacco smoke. By far the majority of those studies show no statistical association between environmental tobacco smoke and those diseases. Now, having said that, I would recognise also totally that for some people a smoky room or tobacco smoke is unpleasant and annoying and an inconvenience. It is a question of how smoky. You put someone into a very smoky room, they get runny eyes and other things that are unpleasant, that is different and that does need to be addressed. The best way of addressing that is through good common sense between adults and, of course, where practical, good ventilation in the accommodation where people have to be.

  582. Would you describe an asthmatic attack as an unpleasant annoyance or a serious risk to health?
  (Mr Wilson) An asthmatic attack is, of course, extremely unpleasant and there are all sorts of atmospheres which an asthmatic should avoid. I am accepting, certainly, that environmental tobacco smoke is annoying, can cause this kind of unpleasantness but not lung cancer, heart disease, etc, which you have listed also because the evidence does not indicate that it does.

  583. The Scientific Committee produced evidence also to show that long term exposure to tobacco smoke does increase the risk. Do you dispute that?
  (Mr Wilson) The evidence that I am aware of of all the studies that have been carried out, by far the majority show no statistical association.

  584. Can I ask why the tobacco manufacturers have taken legal action against the Scientific Committee and what stage those proceedings are at?
  (Mr Gareth Davis) Sorry, could you be specific?

  585. The tobacco manufacturers have taken legal action against SCOTH.
  (Mr Gareth Davis) Judicial review.

  586. That is legal action, is it not?
  (Mr Gareth Davis) Yes.

Chairman

  587. Can you tell us why?
  (Mr Broughton) My recollection, and others here may have a different recollection, is because the industry was not consulted and, therefore, in terms of form, the position is that we believed that it would have been better and more appropriate and it actually required an approach to consult the industry.

  588. Would you be willing to clarify this point prior to our next session?
  (Mr Broughton) Certainly.

  589. There is possibly some doubt about this and we need to be absolutely sure.
  (Mr Wilson) I think that Mr Broughton is broadly right.

Mr Austin

  590. If you could provide the grounds on which you have sought a judicial review.
  (Mr Broughton) Yes.

  591. Can I ask Dr Gietz a question because in your memorandum you state that you have co-operated with the Scientific Committee but in your memorandum you do not mention the legal proceedings which have been brought against you. Are you a party to those proceedings?
  (Dr Axel Gietz) We have co-operated with SCOTH, as we have in the past with other Government bodies or agencies in this country and in other countries. In the framework of our associate membership with what is called today the TMA as we have a very small market share in this country, we are an associate member and through the TMA we have been in contact, in exchanges with SCOTH and other Government bodies or agencies. As far as the question to my colleague or previous questions to him, as far as I remember—but my British colleagues are probably better equipped to answer it—it was the process by which SCOTH conducted their investigation and reached these conclusions which we did not agree with that led the British industry to take these legal steps.

  592. But you are a party to those legal proceedings?
  (Dr Gietz) I would have to double check. I honestly do not know.

  593. Perhaps you can check.
  (Dr Gietz) Yes.

  594. Your answer to that question determines my next question.
  (Dr Gietz) Again, we have a minute market share so the motivation of bigger companies I guess would be stronger than ours. I will find out.

Chairman

  595. Can I ask one or two quick questions on the issue of Government regulation. Is it correct to say that the only significant Government regulation dealing with the constituents of cigarettes has been directed towards reducing tar and nicotine yields? Would you accept that?
  (Mr Wilson) No. I think the Government regulation on our products comes from all sorts of different directions.

  596. Could you be specific as to what they are as you see them?
  (Mr Wilson) The tar and nicotine yields is one of them, the whole question of additives is another area of regulation from the Department of Health. There are numerous voluntary agreements concerning what we can do and what we cannot do by way of promotion. Going back over the years which our submission and other people's submissions have summarised, we are subject to a very high degree of regulation in many aspects of our commercial life.

  597. Can I come specifically to Mr Broughton because I was interested in his company's evidence, page 76, paragraph 325. In a sense you reflected on this point in an answer you gave earlier on. You talk about the alternatives in terms of what the Government should do on the issue of smoking. "The alternatives range from a laissez faire approach (ie given the level of available information, leave it to the market to sort out) to a social engineering approach (where the Government intervenes in the personal lawful lifestyle choices of its citizens and drives them to make lifestyle choices that the Government believes are worthy)." In the context of smoking I am interested in that particular point because as politicians we are charged on numerous occasions with legislation that is going through here that relates to what might be termed lifestyle choices and social engineering. Would you have reservations about the steps, for example, that were taken here in recent years on the requirement to use crash helmets when motorcyclists are riding around or seat belts in cars when people are driving around or the breathalyser legislation? Would you regard that as being a restriction on lifestyle choices? If you do not then how do you distinguish between that area and the issue of smoking?
  (Mr Broughton) If the line had been to prevent people from driving, for example, I would have said that was a dramatic step. Asking them to wear a seat belt I see as a completely different aspect of the issue.

  598. What you are saying is that the Government is not presenting people from smoking effectively?
  (Mr Broughton) That is the first point. I do not think that it is the role of Government as a generalised statement to dictate to individuals every aspect of what they do with their lives. I think the general "nanny-ism" approach of trying to tell everybody exactly what they should do is not the role of Government. To encourage people, to advise people on all types of lifestyle—alcohol, exercise, diet—I think it is right to make people aware and to know what the various risks and consequences are, that is the role of Government. To tell people what they can do and cannot do in that respect is rather different.

  599. One of the first questions I asked at the outset was in respect of your legal duty to produce a safe product. I think you accepted that you had a legal duty to produce as safe a product as possible. If you are talking now about the motorcar analogy, if you produced as a motor manufacturer a vehicle on which the brakes did not work and people were killed as a consequence then something would be done about that, the vehicle would be withdrawn or some steps would be taken of a very serious nature by the manufacturers or by the Government. Is there not an analogy here in that you produce a product that kills people and in circumstances that are very similar, whether it may be a motor vehicle or some other product that resulted in people being harmed physically or even being killed, then some pretty serious steps would have been taken about that product's availability given that six million are dead in this country and the time that we have known about the connections, you have known about the connections, the working hypothesis that Mr Broughton quoted that has been around from the 1950s. We have had ministerial statements in here from 1954, yet in that time six million people have died directly related to smoking?
  (Mr Wilson) We work on the premise that people are going to continue to smoke whatever we do, that is a fact. They should be informed, and they are informed of the risks they are taking but unless it is being suggested—which I have never seriously heard suggested—that smoking should be banned, the best thing that we can do is to ensure that people are aware of the risks, that we take whatever steps we can to ensure that children who are not old enough to make these judgments do not have access to cigarettes and to do what we can to try continuously to improve the quality of our products.


 
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