Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): I make no apology for the fact that I intend to speak principally about the smoking ban. It would be remiss of me, however, to let pass without comment the views of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington),
29 Nov 2005 : Column 206
who spoke about those who shout the loudest winning and about the importance of carrying minorities with the majority. I wish that the same could be said when we speak from the Northern Ireland Benches. I wish that our voices were heard—and we are certainly not a minority within the Northern Ireland context.

I have found the debate on the partial ban on smoking in public places, which the Government are in favour of, most interesting. I am grateful that, after extensive lobbying in Northern Ireland, plans have been announced for a total ban on smoking in public places there. Again, it would be remiss of me not to point out how ironic it is that the Government are willing to protect the health of Northern Ireland citizens by introducing a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places while they are also willing to give an amnesty to on-the-runs who have murdered men, women and children, allowing them the freedom to return home to the Province and move freely among their victims.

There is no logical reason why staff in one pub or club should be protected from the dangers of passive smoking, while those in another should be exposed to them. As already highlighted by hon. Members, a partial ban allowing smoking in pubs where food is not served fails to protect workers in the hospitality industry, who are often at risk of the greatest exposure. On account of the inequalities contained in the Bill, I suggested to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) that pubs serving food will simply get rid of the food business in order to attract the smokers and maximise the takings on alcohol sales. That will inevitably lead to redundancies in the catering trade. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that it did not seem to be an issue in the Republic of Ireland, but, with respect, I would point out that the population of the Republic is approximately 5 million, compared with a population in England of approximately 55 million, so there is no real comparison to be made in terms of job losses.

Many hospitality workers are low paid, and failing to protect them from the effects of smoke at work will only increase health inequalities in that group. Such a policy would be impractical, unfair and lacking in rationale. As I said in an earlier intervention, Macmillan Cancer Relief pointed out that more than 37,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why the Government have chosen to ignore the advice of the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who proposed a total smoking ban, and why the views of 90 per cent. of respondents to the Department of Health's own consultation who supported a full ban without exemptions have also been ignored.

The BMA has stated that second-hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 per cent., increases the risk of heart disease by 25 to 35 per cent., doubles the risk of stroke and causes asthma, respiratory illness and ear infections in children. Those particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke include 8 million people with lung disease, 2.1 million people with angina, 1.3 million people who have had a heart attack and 300,000 who have had a stroke. There are also an estimated 10.8 million women of child-bearing age, some 750,000 pregnant women and 1.5 million children with asthma who would all be at risk. Short-term exposure to tobacco smoke also has a
29 Nov 2005 : Column 207
measurable effect on the heart in non-smokers. Just 30 minutes' exposure is enough to reduce coronary blood flow.

Nicotine addiction is the main motivating factor behind smoking. Smoking is the greatest cause of preventable illness and death and giving up smoking at any age confers substantial health benefits. Individuals who wish to stop smoking must be offered appropriate support and smoking cessation services must be widely available. Extra training should be provided to doctors and other health care professionals to enable them to assess and refer individuals to specialist services. Similarly, those services should be offered to workers at places where smoking is now to be outlawed.

If the Government fail to implement a total ban, England and Wales will trail behind many other parts of the world. The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) pointed out earlier that seven US states have now banned smoking.

Julie Morgan : Is the hon. Lady aware that the Welsh Assembly has already voted in favour of a complete ban?

Mrs. Robinson: I am aware of that and I withdraw the point about Wales.

I was about to say that New Zealand became a smoke-free zone on 10 December 2004. Dr. Tricia Briscoe, chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, commented that that country's

Dr. William Glasson, federal president of the Australian Medical Association said:

I hope that that supports the argument advanced earlier by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman).

Environmental tobacco smoke is also detrimental in terms of the economic effect that it has on businesses due to loss of productivity from sick days and increased insurance due to fire risk. Effects on businesses have often been cited as a reason not to pursue a smoking ban, but evidence from countries that have become smoke-free show positive, not negative, effects on businesses. In New York, receipts in bars and restaurants increased by nearly 9 per cent. in the first year of going smoke-free and reports in the Republic of Ireland suggest that there were no negative effects on sales in bars and restaurants. In fact, many more non-smokers are now going out to restaurants and bars.

Research found that air quality in pubs in the Irish Republic improved significantly in the first year after the introduction of the smoking ban. According to the findings, the level of carbon monoxide among non-smoking bar workers fell by up to 45 per cent. Among ex-smokers, the levels dropped by 36 per cent. These are compelling figures, as I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members would agree.
29 Nov 2005 : Column 208

Studies also show that smoke-free workplaces encourage smokers to quit or reduce consumption—hence addressing a major cause of ill health. The fall in tobacco sales in the Republic of Ireland provides further evidence of that. Dr. James Reilly, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, has stated:

The Republic of Ireland introduced legislation in March 2004 to ban smoking in all public places and workplaces. That has proved to be very successful and highly popular, and no major compliance problems have been encountered. Useful lessons could be learned from that approach. The key to success in the Irish Republic was a clear policy, an effective public information campaign outlining the rationale and clear enforcement laws.

The health and economic evidence is clear and there is widespread support for such a policy. I urge the Government to ensure that any ban is total. That will protect the health of all workers and tackle a major cause of ill health by providing environments that encourage smokers to quit or reduce their consumption. Partial bans rarely work. They please no one in the end. As my dear mother taught me long ago, "If you stand in the middle of the road, you'll get knocked down." The   partial ban is morally wrong: it should be a comprehensive ban. Just as extending opening hours for drinking alcohol is morally wrong, all we will succeed in doing is to fill more hospital beds.

8.10 pm

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Three weeks ago, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of the gunpowder plot. Received wisdom has it that the plotters against the monarchy were alienated Catholics. More perceptive historians blame a group of 17th century cigarette manufacturers, because a few months before 5 November 1605 His Majesty King James I of England and VI of Scotland issued a decree banning tobacco from his kingdom in the following terms:

Clearly, he was not a native of Airdrie and Shotts. And he was not wrong.

Four hundred years later, after mounds of medical evidence, tax rises, warnings on packets, laws about sale of cigarettes to children, and bans on advertising, more than 100,000 people a year in the UK still die from smoking-related disease. That appalling total included my own father when I and my sisters were adolescents.

Smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable death in our country. It is an addiction that brings misery, illness and bereavement to countless families. It is therefore a political issue of great importance.

Next Section IndexHome Page