Select Committee on Health Second Report


243. In evidence given to our recent inquiry into The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking the Royal College of Physicians described cigarette smoking as "the single largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in Britain" and "the greatest challenge and opportunity for all involved in improving the public health".331[338] According to official figures some 120,000 people are killed by tobacco in Britain alone. Tobacco kills half of those who use it over a life time and causes one in ten of all deaths worldwide: as the tobacco epidemic continues its progression from developed to less developed countries, abetted by the cynical marketing strategies of the major tobacco companies, this figure will rise to one in six deaths by 2030 or ten million deaths a year.332[339]

244. Smoking is also a prime cause of health inequalities. As we noted in our previous report, smoking prevalence has fallen by 50% in the most advantaged sectors of society since 1974, but has remained static amongst the least advantaged.333[340] Teenage quitting is highest in affluent households. According to the General Household Survey, in the manual group 35% of men and 31% of women smoked, whereas in non-manual households the figures were 21% of men and 21% of women. Men in the unskilled manual groups were almost three times as likely to smoke as those who lived in professional households.

245. We undertook an extremely wide ranging analysis of the tobacco industry and the Government's tobacco policy set out in its White Paper Smoking Kills published in December 1998. We took evidence from all the major tobacco companies in the UK, leading health specialists in the field and pressure groups both for and against greater tobacco control. We also looked at the role of advertising agencies serving tobacco companies, assessed the impact of Formula One on tobacco marketing and looked in particular at allegations of British American Tobacco's involvement in the smuggling of tobacco worldwide. We reviewed thousands of pages of evidence, including hitherto confidential material held by the advertising agencies which made particular disturbing reading. This evidence alone has already informed research conducted by the World Health Organization and has also prompted wider debate in Europe.

246. The depth and thoroughness of our inquiry last year means we have not specifically examined tobacco control and public health in this inquiry. We would, however, like to return to our previous conclusions in the light of the Government's subsequent response.334[341] In simple numerical terms most of our recommendations were accepted in part or in whole by the Government, a response which we welcome. However, our key recommendation was as follows:

"The final conclusion of the Royal College of Physicians in its Report Nicotine Addiction in Britain was that 'an independent expert committee should be established to examine the institutional options for nicotine regulation, and to report to the Secretary of State for Health on the appropriate future regulation of nicotine products and the management and prevention of nicotine addiction in Britain'. We concur. It seems to us entirely illogical that treatments for nicotine replacement therapy are subject to stringent regulation whereas the infinitely more deadly tobacco products they are designed to supersede escape any fundamental regulation. So we believe a Tobacco Regulatory Authority should be introduced."335[342]

We felt that such a body could examine nicotine:tar ratios to determine how these could be optimised to minimise exposure to toxins; consider the marketing of tobacco products, looking at areas of promotion going beyond advertising; and explore the technological means to make cigarettes safer and less addictive, perhaps setting upper limits and progressive reductions for known carcinogens.

247. The Government told us it: "agrees with the Select Committee that tobacco products need to be regulated more effectively than at present. We believe that much of this regulation will be most effective if it is done at the European level, which is why we continue to argue strongly for tighter regulation and greater openness in negotiations with our European partners".336[343] We ourselves had argued that a European wide regulatory authority would be the ideal, but that such a body could have no credibility whilst the Common Agricultural Policy still supported tobacco production in Europe and the Commission had only one official, working part time, on tobacco control.

248. We would welcome a clear statement of principle by the Government on the desirability of a Tobacco Regulatory Authority. We feel that our report was one of the most comprehensive analyses of the tobacco industry ever undertaken in the UK, had access to documentation that had hitherto been concealed, and got very much to the heart of the behaviour of the tobacco companies. We would like the Government unequivocally to support our recommendation and - when parliamentary time permits - introduce appropriate legislation to support it.

3 338  31 Second Report of the Health Committee, Session 1999-2000, The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, (HC 27), p. xiii. Back

3 339  32 These figures are sourced from evidence adduced in The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, p. xiii. Back

3 340  33 The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, p.xviii. Back

3 341  34 Published as Cm 4905, October 2000. Back

3 342  35 The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, p.lxi. Back

3 343  36 Cm 4905, p.17. Back

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