Examination of Witnesses (Questions 610
THURSDAY 20 JANUARY 2000
MR S CLARK,
MR D SWAN
610 Good Morning. Would you please introduce
yourselves briefly to the Committee?
(Mr Clark) I am Simon Clark, Director
of FOREST, the smokers' rights group.
(Mr Swan) My name is David Swan, I am the Chief Executive
of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association and I am accompanied
by Chris Ogden, a colleague at the TMA.
611 May I begin by expressing the appreciation
of the Committee to you all for your cooperation with our inquiry
and for the written evidence you have given us which has been
useful in respect of our addressing the issues we are concerned
with? May I begin by putting some questions to Mr Clark in respect
of FOREST? It might be deemed a philosophical question in some
respects, but you use as part of your organisational title the
term "freedom" and on a number of occasions in your
evidence you also use the term "freedom". Can you for
the information of the Committee define what in this context you
mean by "freedom"?
(Mr Clark) Very much so. I am a non-smoker
myself but I firmly believe that adult consumers should be allowed
to smoke if that is what they wish to do. I believe that Government
has a role in informing consumers about the health risks of smoking
and as an organisation FOREST has never queried the health risks.
We accept there is a risk factor in smoking but we believe, as
long as the information is put out there, it is really very much
up to adults. We do not believe in patronising adults or telling
them how to behave. If that is a lifestyle choice they wish to
take then we believe they should be allowed to do that. We feel
we represent courteous smokers. We do accept there are times when
a smoky atmosphere, for example, can be annoying to some non-smokers.
Therefore we do not take the view of some of the more extreme
smokers' pressure groups in the States, for example, who believe
they can smoke here, there and everywhere. Smokers have to be
courteous, but it is a question of tolerance, courtesy and common
sense. We very much believe that smoking is not going to go away.
It is going to be around for a long time to come and therefore
it is a question of accommodating the interests of both smokers
and non-smokers. To answer your question, when we talk about "freedom"
we believe that adults should have the freedom to smoke a legal
product. Clearly if you decide to ban smoking completely and ban
tobacco products, it is no longer a legal product and a different
situation will occur. From our point of view prohibition will
never work; it would be completely counter productive and impossible
to police. So smoking is going to be around and we feel that adults
should have that freedom as long as non-smokers' interests are
taken into account as well.
612 It is probably a question of how one balances
the freedoms of the non-smokers and smokers which is perhaps an
area we can explore.
(Mr Clark) Although we are publicised
as a smokers' rights group, I tend not to use the word "rights"
because I personally do not believe smokers have a right to light
up wherever they feel like it. The anti-smoking lobby tend to
talk about people having a right to breath clean air. That is
unrealistic in a modern industrial society, particularly when
you walk round the streets of London with all the car fumes. It
is a question of being practical about this and accepting the
realities of life rather than going around pontificating about
a right to smoke and a right to breathe clean air, which realistically
unless you are living on top of the Alps is virtually impossible.
613 I am interested in your definition of "freedom".
I have a quote written down here and I cannot remember who came
up with it but there are people here with a better educational
background than myself who might be able to prompt me on this
one. It was a nineteenth century quote, "Your freedom to
swing your stick ends where my nose begins". That strikes
me as very relevant to the smoking issue, accepting the point
you have made about clean air. I do not think I am an extremist
in any respect on this issue but it is slightly different when
I as somebody, like one or two here, who has smoked in the past
do find it quite offensive when in this building and elsewhere,
particularly when some of us have to go to the Millbank broadcasting
studios, inevitably outside that building in the entrance have
to go through clouds of smoke. Where do my freedoms fit in in
(Mr Clark) I completely understand. I
understand that argument because as a non-smoker myself the last
place on earth I would want to sit on a train is the smoking compartment.
However, as a non-smoker I firmly believe that smoking compartment
should be there, for the simple reason that it does keep the smokers
away from the non-smokers. We had a little bit of a run-in with
Great Western a couple of weeks ago when they announced that in
all their trains, including their five-hour trains from Paddington
to Penzance, they were going to abolish their smoking compartment.
I just felt that smokers' interests were not going to be helped
by that and non-smokers interests were not going to be helped
either. When you introduce complete prohibition you will always
get a hard core of smokers, whom we do not condone, who will continue
to light up anyway. That then gives ordinary courteous smokers
a bad name, but it also upsets the non-smokers. On a long-distance
train having a separate compartment for smokers seems to be the
perfect compromise. We are very much in favour in pubs and restaurants
of having smoking and non-smoking areas. There are many cases
where at the moment both ourselves and the anti-smoking lobby,
groups such as ASH, agree on many areas; we agree that there should
be smoking and non-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants. Where
I am a bit sceptical about the anti-smoking lobby is that I believe
there is a ratchet effect currently in place and although they
are arguing at the moment for smoking and non-smoking areas, in
a few years' time they will be demanding complete prohibition
in pubs. At that point we would say enough is enough. At the moment
we are very much in agreement. If we can come to those types of
practical solutions which accept the fact that 30 per cent of
the British public still smoke, then we need to cater and accommodate
smokers. The same thing at work. We have been heavily involved
with the Health & Safety Commission. They have been very keen
to get our views about the approved code of practice which they
are currently looking into. One of the things which concerned
us is that they have given employers a range of options and their
number one option is to introduce a complete ban on smoking at
work. Again, I completely accept the argument that working in
a smoky atmosphere can be unpleasant, but it seems to me there
are many other options you can introduce before having a complete
ban. You can have better air conditioning. Modern air cleaning
systems help. Smoking rooms. We completely accept that small businesses
maybe do not have the space to have a separate room for smokers
and in that case one accepts that there might have to be a complete
ban in place. It would not harm many larger companies to have
a separate room for smokers. It is a question of being practical.
We might sit here and be very holier than thou, saying it is pathetic
that smokers cannot get through a day without having a cigarette,
but the practicality of the matter is that many smokers do like
to have a cigarette during the day, it relaxes them, they enjoy
it, it eases tension, stress, all these types of things.
614 We started off with a question about freedoms
and respecting each other's rights to certain freedoms and your
example of the train arrangements. I travel on a regular basis
between my constituency and London and on that train there are
smoking compartments. The difficulty is that we cannot contain
the smoke in those smoking compartments for the simple reason
that the smoke comes down to the other parts of that carriage.
I certainly find, if I am in a non-smoking section of that same
compartment, that my clothes smell of smoke when I get off the
train. My freedom in some respects is affected by the freedom
afforded to the smoker. We also have a situation now where increasingly
airlines are non-smoking. Some of us had the experience of going
on a long haul to the States a little while ago, which was completely
non-smoking for a nine hour flight. Would you be unhappy about
that? Do you believe that is wrong?
(Mr Clark) I understand airlines in the
sense that in recent years, particularly since the 1970s, the
airlines cut costs by reducing the air flow within cabins; this
happened during the oil crisis of 1973. It obviously uses up fuel
to have air circulating, so they have cut the air circulating
in planes. Clearly having just a few rows at the back of the cabin
where the smoke can go over non-smokers as well, as a non-smoker
I understand it can be a bit annoying at times. I do think you
are slightly over-exaggerating the case on trains. I have commuted
a lot on long distance trains from Scotland to London and so on.
Really I do find that the vast majority of non-smokers are not
put out by having a separate compartment; as long as it is separate
I simply do not accept that smoke is swirling through from the
smoking compartment into the non-smoking areas. I think the vast
majority of non-smokers are quite happy with that arrangement.
It really is not a big thing. I was not around but one assumes
in pubs, for example, in the days of the 1950s when 80 per cent
of men smoked and went into pubs that pubs must therefore have
been very, very smoky. I really think that in the vast majority
of cases those types of pub do not exist any more. Yes, you might
find a few around but they do not really exist in the way they
did, plus there is choice with regard to pubs. You have chains
like Weatherspoons and various others who have introduced a lot
of no-smoking areas and that creates choice. If you walk into
a pub, most non-smokers are not put out by a little bit of smoke
in the atmosphere because these places are not heavily smoky.
When you go into a pub, you accept there is going to be a little
bit of smoke. Most non-smokers and smokers get on perfectly well
whether it is at home or work or at play in the evening. I do
think the anti-smoking lobby has tried hard to create a war between
smokers and non-smokers which in the real world really does not
Chairman: One observation, a slight aside, of
travelling for nearly 13 years on that train is that some of my
colleagues, Members of Parliament, who travelled in the smoking
compartment are no longer with us for reasons you perhaps might
want to comment on.
615 On your use of the word "annoyance",
that a smoky atmosphere may be an "annoyance", a phrase
which was also used by the tobacco manufacturers when they were
here, do you not accept that it is more than annoyance and is
a positive health risk?
(Mr Clark) I am not a medical expert;
I really cannot comment. I do not want to go down that line because
I am not a doctor, I am not a medical expert, I am simply talking
here about freedoms, about representing the interests of smokers.
616 Would you accept medical evidence that there
is a health risk?
(Mr Clark) If you want to talk about
passive smoking, I am happy to talk about that. I believe that
the jury on passive smoking is still out.
617 Despite the medical evidence.
(Mr Clark) There is evidence which goes
the other way as well. I could come up with lots of examples,
but only last year the World Health Organisation, which is perhaps
the biggest anti-smoking organisation in the world, published
a report which purported to show that non-smokers had a 17 per
cent increased risk of lung cancer from passive smoking. In their
own press release, they admitted that those figures were not statistically
significant. We have had examples in America, in Australia, even
the Health & Safety Commission in their draft code of practice
earlier this year said there was no firm scientific evidence to
suggest that passive smoking is harmful to health. It is a debate
which is ongoing. It has been going on since 1975 and the case
has not been made for passive smoking. I am happy to accept the
health risks of primary smoking but the passive smoking argument
is that it will go on for a long time yet.
618 Would you accept that tobacco smoke is one
of the major triggers, if not a cause but at least a trigger of
(Mr Clark) I am not a medical expert;
I really cannot answer that. I am a layman.
619 If it were, would you call that an "annoyance"
to a child or a health risk?
(Mr Clark) If it were, but it is a hypothetical
question. I really do not want to get into the medical debate
because I am a layman, I am not a doctor.