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Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, in what has turned out to be rather a grim end-of-term scrap, I cheerfully declare my interest as a contented pipe smoker of many years' standing and a former chairman—now honorary president—of the smokers' defence group FOREST.

Listening to these debates, it is tempting to resort to unparliamentary language about this gratuitous and time-wasting debate after Her Majesty's Government have announced a smoking ban. The obsessive, highly organised witch hunt against smokers—deaf to reasoned argument—reminds me of my early days as a campaigning economist. Then it was equally difficult to win a hearing for plain common sense on economic freedom.
 
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Other free spirits this evening have rebuffed the spiteful attack on the everyday civil rights of millions of smokers and tens of thousands of pubs, hotels and restaurants. My single purpose is to assert the commonsense implausibility that so-called passive smoking can actually kill non-smokers. After much diligent study, I have concluded that all this agitation is mere puffed-up propaganda to punish smokers for exercising a traditional freedom—at their own risk. My smoke may irritate the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, but it cannot kill him or anybody else.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I beg to differ—it can kill me.

Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, I believe that it cannot kill the noble Viscount or anybody else. There is no evidence that it kills.

Viscount Simon: That is because I am still alive, my Lords.

Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, the proof of my case lies in the total failure of ceaseless well-funded research by multiplying anti-smoking lobbies, over 25 years and 80 reports, to find persuasive evidence of harm to others that is consistent or statistically significant. My exposé is set out in a recent monograph called Smoking out the Truth, which included a direct personal challenge to the CMO. His response, though courteous, was frankly pretty feeble.

Consider the unconvincing methodology of all the research. It relies on questionnaires which seek to detect what they call the elevation of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The method is to compare two matched samples. One is a control group of healthy non-smokers, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the other is made up of the cases of non-smoking wives with lung cancer who live with smokers. The test is almost as hilarious as the classic cartoon of a bobby who arrests someone in a pub because, in the words of the caption, "I thought, m'Lud, I could smell alcohol on his breath".

With so-called passive smoking, there is no pretence of scientific measurement. The least whiff of tobacco smoke is sufficient proof of guilt. The aim of all this research is to establish a single statistic called relative risk which purports to measure the comparative long-term exposure to ETS of the two groups, the controls and the cases. In brief, a relative risk of 1.0 implies equal exposure to ETS of the two groups, whereas, let us say, 2.0 would imply a doubling of the hypothetical risk of cancer. One hundred per cent more of very little is still not very much.

There are at least three ways in which this pseudo-research fails. First, reputable epidemiologists require a relative risk of at least two before they take any risk seriously, and some of them look for one of three or four. Secondly, answers to questions on lifetime exposure to ETS must always be wildly unreliable—a dubious mix of guesswork, vague recall, subjective impressions, exaggeration and plain untruths. Let us imagine trying to estimate, tabulate and calibrate such esoteric data in order to calculate a relative risk, with
 
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spurious precision to two decimal places, that ignores the wide range of "confidence intervals" which indicate statistical significance.

Can any noble Lord present honestly say, even on a rough scale of one to 10, how much tobacco smoke was around his family home in his youth and ever since? Professor Robert Nilsson, a Swedish academic toxicologist, reckoned that typical domestic exposure might be equal to the effect of an individual smoking one or two cigarettes a year. Yet one of those earnest questionnaires on exposure actually asked the next of kin of a spouse who was dying of lung cancer how many months a year she left her windows open. How is that for cod science?

If that were not enough to discredit the whole hocus-pocus, let us consider a third gaping flaw in this ramshackle methodology. Cancer is known to be a multi-factorial disease, which may be traced to diet, heredity, lifestyle, alcohol, urban location, car exhausts and so on. All such "confounders" are conveniently ignored in those crude health warnings on television and cigarette packets. Instead, all cancers are blamed on smoking. We heard some of that this evening in totally ridiculous, individual, personal, family examples.

How scrupulously is all the research conducted and reported? Publication bias leads zealous researchers to seek big, eye-catching results. In today's political climate, researchers who claim a high relative risk of exposure to lung cancer will more easily attract headlines, publication and further research grants, as well as frequent mentions in your Lordships' House. From this arises the practice of "data dredging" or torturing the statistics until they confess the answer that you want.

I turn finally to the report of the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health. After admitting ignorance of the numbers exposed to ETS, it puts relative risk at a piffling 1.2 or 1.3 and estimates that exposure could account for "several hundred" extra lung cancer deaths a year. Several hundred in population of 40 million is completely laughable. It is not to be taken at all seriously.

I shall not dwell on the BMA press release last March which claimed that "second-hand smoke" kills more than 600 people every day. That is 200,000 people a year. This was later withdrawn as a clerical error, but it nicely indicates the feverish world in which the BMA's staff live their smoke-free lives.

My emphatic judgment on passive smoking is: "Relax. There is absolutely nothing in it". The whole invention is nothing more than a stupendous confidence trick. I hereby nominate the victims of the spoof as ASBOs; that is, anti-smoking belief obsessives.

8.59 pm

Viscount Simon: My Lords, following the introduction of my noble friend Lord Faulkner to this Bill, your Lordships will be expecting me to declare an
 
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interest as somebody who is severely asthmatic and who is allergic to numerous volatile chemicals and to tobacco smoke. This, I do.

It has been proposed in the Public Health White Paper that most—I repeat, most—workplaces should be free of second-hand tobacco smoke. Not only does this not go far enough in protecting people from second-hand smoke, but it does not address the stated intention of reducing the rate of smoking, thereby contradicting the Government's public commitments to cut the number of smokers.

While one can understand that guarded approach, does this mean that, when somebody succumbs to the effects of inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke and can no longer work, the Government will pay compensation or will have a leg to stand on when taken to court? That is what may, and probably will, happen at some time in the future, because it is widely acknowledged by the Government and others that the inhalation of second-hand tobacco smoke causes illness and death. Because of that acknowledgement, the door is left wide open for potential court actions to be pursued. That door has already been opened in the private sector—and I strongly suspect that there will be more such cases.

It has been proven that second-hand tobacco smoke is a carcinogen, yet millions of workers are exposed with no protection whatever. But while people continue to smoke, they are burying their heads in the sand: every new scientific report on both smoking and inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke provides more and more evidence of the dangers present. There are those who, in their advancing years, say that they have smoked all their lives. That may well be, but they are the exception, as many others will have died prematurely from smoking tobacco products which, as established last year, contain numerous poisons. It would not surprise me if most if not all noble Lords here today knew somebody who had died prematurely from a tobacco-related disease.

The benefits of prohibiting smoking in the workplace would be to reduce the number of smoking-related cases and, thereby, the financial pressure on the health service. Finland, which has included smoking restrictions in the workplace, has seen a 40 per cent reduction in the costs of benefits and a fall in the rates of hospital admissions and deaths. But we hear the tobacco industry claim that that will reduce takings in pubs and restaurants. Evidence taken from around the world, where bans are in force, proves the opposite, with many areas showing increased trade and numerous job creations.

We hear that ventilation could be the answer to second-hand tobacco smoke inhalation, but even the tobacco industry hospitality programme admits that ventilation does not address the adverse health effects; no authoritative institution claims that it does. Other noble Lords have mentioned that matter. Indeed, data from California show that there is a growing awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke even among smokers.
 
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Stratford Sanders, the spokesman for SmokeFree Australia, has commented on the Australian Capital Territory Government's decision to ban smoking in bars, clubs and restaurants with less than 25 per cent open air present. He said:

The ACT Government have conceded that their partial ban is completely arbitrary and is not supported by scientific study.

Contrary to the claims that a complete ban would lead to more smoking in the home, the current evidence is that smoke-free workplaces result in people giving up and thereby reducing the risk of second-hand smoke in the home. That of course would help the growing number of children with asthma who become ill when inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke. Of the 5.2 million people with asthma in the UK, 82 per cent—that is 4.3 million—have said that second-hand smoke makes their asthma worse. Often, it is the case that a small amount of second-hand tobacco smoke can trigger an instant attack and could prove fatal.

My noble friend—and I call him friend—Lord Harris of High Cross will I am sure be very interested to learn that when I am on a motorway travelling at 70 miles per hour with my windows closed, I will have a minor asthma attack if somebody is smoking in another car; if my windows are open, I will have a major attack. That has been witnessed by other people.

I am not alone in not being willing to take the risk of going anywhere that second-hand smoke may be present. One in five people with asthma feel excluded from parts of the workplace where people smoke. And, for those who think that smoking areas work, let me say that a smoking area could be defined as one where smokers are not present but their tobacco smoke is.

All people at their place of work should be treated equally so why should workers be less protected because they happen to work in the hospitality sector when, in fact, these are the very people who are most vulnerable? These workers breathe in higher levels of smoke for longer duration than anyone else, resulting in greater risk of illness. Workers cannot necessarily choose where they work. Should they have to choose between their livelihood and their health? I think not.

On a previous occasion my noble friend Lord Faulkner quoted King James I of England. I shall give another quotation by the same monarch:

I support these Bills in the hope that when they become enacted, they will prompt other towns, cities and the Government to acknowledge the dangers associated with the tobacco habit and the potential for court actions.
 
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9.5 pm


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