Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



640  In the light of your answer, would you therefore come out and oppose anything which seemed to you from the industry or the advertisers or the marketers to be targeting children or seemed to be encouraging children to smoke?

  (Mr Clark) Absolutely because we do not want children to smoke. What is happening in society is that we are becoming almost a child based universe where I have an interest in protecting children but there comes a point where one has to look after adult rights as well.

641  I am not talking about adult rights.

  (Mr Clark) As soon as people have reached 16, then it is entirely up to them whether or not they continue to smoke.

642  I am not worried about that but in your memorandum you say—your words—that children are often "... coerced into `voluntary' anti-smoking campaigns, agent provocateur activities against tobacconists and harassment of smoking parents in a way ominously reminiscent of George Orwell's `Junior Anti-Sex League'". Those are your words. Is that not rather strong? If you are seriously telling us that you want to protect children and that you are only interested in the rights of adult smokers, then surely it is a bit strong to start accusing people of Orwellian tactics purely for getting children involved.

  (Mr Clark) No, because the tactic of sending, as some councils have done, in Hampshire for example and other areas, children into tobacconists to incite them to break the law by selling cigarettes to children is outrageous.

643  An alternative view would be sending children into tobacconists to find out whether tobacconists are already breaking the law.

  (Mr Clark) Whichever way you look at it, it is an incitement and to encourage children to incite people to break the law is a terrible thing to do. One of the things I will tell my own children is that if they go into shops and try to buy cigarettes, they are basically going to be getting other people into trouble, that is the tobacconist, and it is simply outrageous to do that.

644  You think it is perfectly reasonable for tobacconists to break the law and not be caught at it.

  (Mr Clark) Of course not. Tobacconists must be encouraged not to sell. I am a firm believer in giving kids ID cards. The onus must be on the tobacconist when he does not know what age somebody is to ask what age they are and they must be produce an ID card. I am firmly behind the ID card idea and clearly that will help tobacconists.

645  The final point I should like to make is that if you are against the idea of children smoking then the simple question is this. What measures do you think will reduce the takeup of smoking in those aged under 16?

  (Mr Clark) There is a basic problem about children smoking. One has to live in the real world, be realistic. I do not think you will ever stop all children smoking. I am not condoning it, but it is a fact of life that the point about smoking is that it is an opportunity for children to express their individuality. It is often down to peer pressure. They see their friends smoking and they start to smoke. That is why we have been against the ban on tobacco advertising because I have not been convinced by the arguments that banning tobacco advertising will actually make children stop. If you go over the top, and I believe even Tessa Jowell has admitted this, if you constantly lecture children about smoking, they will almost certainly go off and do the opposite. Measures against children smoking could almost be counter productive because you make tobacco a forbidden fruit, you make it more attractive.

646  I understand why children smoke and the pressures put on them. We shall talk about that later this morning. I want to know from you what measures you think we could introduce to try to reduce the risk of children smoking.

  (Mr Clark) I am telling you I honestly do not know because I think children will always find a way of smoking.

647  You do not have any strategy at all that you can come up with to try to reduce the risk of children smoking.

  (Mr Clark) FOREST is interested in adult rights not children. If we are asked, we will obviously say we do not want children to smoke, but our whole raison d'e®tre is to support the adult right to smoke. No, I do not have any ideas how children can be prevented. If you tell children not to smoke and really go over the top, as some of the campaigns in certain schools have done which encouraged children to nag their parents to give up, for example, I think this is a shocking thing and children will react against it and it will be counterproductive and more people will begin to smoke.

  Dr Stoate: I accept that entirely but I still find it very surprising that your organisation does not have any views currently on what can be done to prevent the epidemic of smoking in young children which everybody in this room would decry.

Mr Austin

648  You referred to the use of children by trading standards officers. Are you aware that there are very strict guidelines for the ways in which children may be used in such practices?

  (Mr Clark) Maybe there are, but it is happening and I think inciting anybody to break the law is a very bad thing to do.

649  If you have read the guidelines, do you think the use of the word "incitement" is justified?

  (Mr Clark) If you send a child into a tobacconist to try to get the tobacconist to sell tobacco products to that child, I think that is incitement. I am all for trying to make sure, if tobacconists are shown to sell tobacco products to children, that the law is brought down on top of them. You have to help the tobacconist. It is no good going in. I am not here to represent tobacconists by the way but you have to help the tobacconists. A lot of 15 and 16-year-olds can look 17 or 18. It is a very fine line. It is a fact of life and we live in the real world here.

650  Do you realise there is an age restriction on the children who may be used, that they have to be younger than that?

  (Mr Clark) One could argue that 12-year-olds can look very old these days, depending on what they are wearing and all the rest of it.

651  Are you aware that the guidelines say they must dress appropriately for their age?

  (Mr Clark) The guidelines may well say that but tobacconists are being caught out. I am basically against incitement.

652  They are being caught out selling cigarettes to children under 16.

  (Mr Clark) You could help tobacconists by making sure that kids have ID cards. That seems to me a far preferable thing to do. The other interesting thing of course is the contrast between sales of alcohol and cigarettes. As I understand it, with alcohol, if you are under age and you buy alcohol, you are committing a crime as well as the person who is selling it to you. There seems to have been an anomaly with tobacco products where it is only the person who is doing the selling who is actually committing an offence. I am the last person to suggest that the Government brings in the law to make it an offence to buy tobacco products as well if you are under age, because the courts would be clogged up with the whole thing and it would be impossible to police. It is a strange anomaly.

653  Can I come on to your memorandum and freedom of choice? You have said in your memorandum that the "... anti-smoking lobby makes much of the finding that 70 per cent of smokers wish to give up". You remark that "... what people tell pollsters is quite different from how they behave in practice". Yet nowhere in your memorandum do you address the issue of whether smoking is addictive. Why is there this omission in your evidence and what are your views?

  (Mr Clark) I do not claim to be a medical expert. What we do as far as addiction goes is basically report what other people say on addiction. May I first of all talk about the 70 per cent which is constantly thrown in our faces, the 70 per cent of smokers who say they want to give up. I have to say I treat such polls with enormous suspicion. I do not smoke but it is fairly obvious that I eat too much and I have a passion for jam doughnuts. If somebody came up to me and asked whether I would like to give up jam doughnuts, of course I would say yes, because I want to lose weight but in practice—

654  Let us stick to the issue of addiction. Do you think jam doughnuts are the same as nicotine in terms of addiction?

  (Mr Clark) Let me read what some other people say, not us. Our job is as a conduit to get across to journalists and to politicians that there is a variety of views.

655  Do you accept that nicotine is a powerful addictive drug?

  (Mr Clark) I do not accept that, not at all, because I think the word "addiction" is almost meaningless at the moment. We hear, for example, about Michael Douglas being addicted to sex. Earlier this week in The Standard the actress Sarah Lancashire who played Raquel in Coronation Street said she was addicted to acting. I do not want to be frivolous but I have even heard that MPs are addicted to mileage allowances.

656  Now you are being frivolous. Our former colleague, your former colleague, John Carlisle, said in this House—

  (Mr Swan) Excuse me, I do not believe John Carlisle is a former colleague of Mr Clark.
  (Mr Clark) Let me say on that point that for some bizarre reason we kept getting correspondence sent to John Carlisle at our address. We have never been colleagues. That is something which needs to be sorted out.

657  The point I am making is that he tried to suggest that tobacco and nicotine were on a par with shopping, sex and such things. There is powerful medical evidence, and we have had it from the Royal College of Physicians and others, that nicotine is a powerful addictive drug. Do you accept that or do you not?

  (Mr Clark) May I give you some other quotes which I like to throw into the pot? This is what our job is. That is why the role of an organisation like FOREST in a free, democratic society, is so important because there are always at least two sides to any story and debate. In a democratic country it is important that debate takes place and is not dominated by one side or the other. Let me read you a quote from Professor Hans Eysenck, who is obviously a world famous psychologist. He said that smoking is not an addiction because the term addiction really has no scientific meaning. It is used in so many different ways that it is almost impossible to attach any meaning to it. Let me also quote you Dr Macara, who is former chairman of the British Medical Association, writing in the Western Daily Press in 1996. Dr Macara said he did not accept that smokers are truly addicted to tobacco. He thought they had a habit. He did accept that there are some people who are very seriously inadequate so that they feel they need the prop of a cigarette. He believed the majority of smokers could stop tomorrow, no, today if they really wanted to. That was Dr Macara, former chairman of the British Medical Association. To be fair to Dr Macara, he later said that was not what he did say; although I have to say that has shades of Lord Winston about it. It was actually an article which appeared under his byline. Our job is to get those types of views across. It is not us saying we do not believe it is addictive: we simply report what other people say.

658  May I ask the TMA whether they accept the medical evidence that nicotine is a powerful addictive drug?

  (Mr Swan) I hope I get the opportunity to answer that question.


659  We are doing our best.

  (Mr Swan) You may think so. I am very concerned that the Committee and anybody else observing these proceedings will have the belief that Mr Clark is speaking on behalf of the tobacco manufacturers. That is our job as the trade association. With respect to Mr Clark, I found his approach to the issue of children and smoking confusing and I can only believe they are his own personal opinions; they are not ours. With regard to the issue of addiction, we too have trouble with the word "addiction". We are not qualified to make any comment. It is best to address it to those with the scientific expertise in the companies to give an account or indeed to advise the Government. If we mean it is difficult to give up, it probably is for some people. I think however that in the past and in my own experience, if people really want to give up, they can, but there are some people who find it difficult. If that is what we mean by addiction, fine. I too am aware of some of the scientific papers which seek to draw parallels between the scientific or medical effect of nicotine on the individual and illegal substances. I really cannot comment on that. I just feel it is counter intuitive to me. I do not see smokers going out and when they run out of cigarettes accosting vulnerable people and stealing money to get another packet of cigarettes. I understand that people who are truly addicted to illegal drugs do involve themselves in crime in order to feed that habit. If someone is defining it as a similar ballgame in scientific terms, that may be right scientifically, but I suspect we are in a different league.

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