Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 692)



680  Do I understand you to say that you are a mouthpiece for the manufacturers? They told you not to deal with health risks, therefore you do not.

  (Mr Swan) We are employed as a trade association to carry out the wishes of our member companies. It would be a very strange trade association if it did not.

681  Is the answer to my question yes or no?

  (Mr Swan) They do not require us to talk on this matter.

682  So you do not.

  (Mr Swan) Therefore we do not.

683  Mr Clark, you said right at the beginning that by and large the arguments you get into do not deal with the question of health. I noted you down as saying that. In your memorandum to us, why is it that there is an entire section, section 4, which in effect deals with what you call disinformation about how the Government can mislead the consumer, which in paragraph after paragraph deals with scientific and medical aspects? How do you square those two propositions?

  (Mr Clark) I said from the very start that we do not get involved in health issues if we can help it because we are not experts on that topic. I was a bit surprised when we originally received the invitation to take part in this particular inquiry because it was clearly about health risks. When I wrote back to the Clerk I said that we could not comment on the health risks, we do not have that sort of expertise. I noted that there was a reference, a sentence, to the Government's role in consumer protection and I said that if you wanted us to, we would submit a very brief memorandum about our views on how far the Government should involve itself in consumer protection. That is why most of the memorandum relates to advertising. The only reason that particular section you are referring to is there, is because obviously in interviews people do ask us about the health issues. Our basic point is that we are not experts but we do feel on occasion that the anti-smoking lobby either exaggerates its case—we were talking about it earlier to do with passive smoking and the use of statistics—

684  May I just interrupt? Do you consider the Government to be what you call part of the anti-smoking lobby?

  (Mr Clark) Yes, I do. One of the cases, for example, is clearly on the question of the health risks of smoking and cancers. One of the things we feel is that there is such a witch hunt against smoking and tobacco products at the moment that we often feel other factors are not taken into consideration. This is not our view, it is views expressed by other people. We simply try to make this case. We are not setting ourselves up to be experts in any way at all. However, we do point out—I am looking at a report in front of me here—that as many as two thirds of cancer cases are linked to the type of food that people eat. So diet is a major issue. We accept there are health risks associated with smoking but diet is an important factor as well. There has recently been publicity about the effect of genes. Some people may, it is said—

685  Levi jeans?

  (Mr Clark) Some people may have a cancer gene and obviously a lot of research needs to go into this, but smoking is not the only health issue which affects us today. Sometimes we feel that the anti-smoking lobby ignores other factors. Lord Stoddart of Swindon in 1997 asked the Government basically what percentage of total annual deaths was represented by the number of deaths from so-called smoking related diseases. That is what is referred to in our memorandum. The reply we received back from the Government was that it estimated 120,000 people died as a result of smoking in the United Kingdom in 1995 and the diseases attributed to smoking and used to estimate the total number of deaths were ... and there were 16 different diseases associated with smoking. All we try to point out is yes, there are smoking related diseases but as I understand it, two thirds of deaths in the UK every year can be attributed to smoking related diseases, therefore clearly a lot of non-smokers, people who have never smoked, are dying of so-called smoking related diseases. We just think that is an interesting issue and maybe one which should be looked into. People are dying of so-called smoking related diseases who have never smoked and therefore that surely cannot be blamed on tobacco. There are other factors involved such as diet, perhaps genes. We are not experts. I cannot go any further than that because I do not know enough about the subject but these are issues which have been raised by other people and we feel that it is worth making that point and that really was the purpose of mentioning it in the memorandum.

686  Is it not part of your job to get out there and obscure the facts so that people, consumers as you call them, do not know what to believe, so they are likely to continue smoking? Is that not part of your job?

  (Mr Clark) No, not at all. Our job is to say that we want as much information in front of people as possible, so that people can make a decision on whether or not they wish to continue smoking. We do feel that some of the information which is put out about smoking is either an exaggeration or it does not take into account other factors. We feel this is counterproductive. It is actually causing a lot of people to switch off. It is referred to as warning fatigue. It is something we must bear in mind. If we are constantly lecturing people, if we create a very paternalistic society, a lot of people will switch off and in fact the anti-smoking message, or the health message, will be lost. Any judgement this Committee comes to when it produces a report must take that into account. Warning fatigue is a serious problem.


687  The Committee in evidence has received a document entitled "Gallaher/TMA Awareness of Communications Ban Campaign", which was submitted to us by M&C Saatchi. It is right at the end of the dossier. This document proposed several activities to diminish the impact of a proposed advertising ban, including "Undermine Jowell, position her as the Minister of Bans". Obviously Tessa Jowell was until recently the Health Minister responsible for smoking policy. Could you explain the status of this document and what actions it prompted?

  (Mr Swan) If the Clerk had told me it came from M&C Saatchi it would have saved me a couple of phone calls. It is not in fact a TMA document, and it was presented to me as an anonymous document. The status, to cut to the matter, is that I believe this to be a think piece, probably from Saatchi's responding to a prompt from Gallaher. I could put this in context. The TMA did undertake an information campaign in June 1997. Initially—and you may well have received it; I do not know whether you bothered to read it or watch the video—a video and booklet were presented to many MPs and peers and it was entitled Advertising the Facts. As our discussions with the new Government and the new Department of Health Ministers progressed—and the possibility at that stage was that we were expecting primary legislation which was the route if we could not persuade that the voluntary agreement route was infinitely to be preferred—it began to emerge that possibly the ban on advertising might extend to promotional activity. So in September we issued another booklet and companies wrote out to all those smokers who were redeeming gifts to warn them that it was possible that this activity might be banned by the Government.

688  The long and short of it, in terms of an answer to my question, is that this was not a Gallaher/TMA communication.

  (Mr Swan) I am coming on to that.

689  Could you be brief?

  (Mr Swan) Yes. I am sorry, but I have had very little opportunity to talk.

690  I appreciate that. It is a brief session and we are grateful for your contribution. Feel free to write to us afterwards if you feel there are areas you have not had chance to speak about.

  (Mr Swan) In parallel with this straightforward activity, member companies expressed the view that the effectiveness of the campaign which we had undertaken could be enhanced if it were backed by a main media campaign. We agreed that Gallaher would talk to Saatchi to see whether they came up with any ideas. I do not know—I am speculating—I believe this must have been the response to the approach of Gallaher. It is an agency think piece. What I will say is that we did actually see yet another presentation from another agency and we used none of them.

691  This is something we could obviously put to Saatchi because they are with us in the next session.

  (Mr Swan) Is the status of the document now clear?

  Chairman: Not from my point of view but when I read the transcript it might be.

Dr Stoate

692  In evidence earlier on you said that your evidence was that between two and three people per 100,000 might die of passive smoking. Would you put that in perspective in that one in 100,000 people are murdered in this country therefore passive smoking is three times as dangerous as being murdered? What would you think about that?

  (Mr Clark) One has to put it in perspective: it is not a lot of people. It is as simple as that.

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