§ Mr. Pardoe
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement about the latest evidence available to her showing that the smoking of tobacco is a danger to health; and if she is yet prepared to seek to introduce legislation commensurate with this evidence.
§ Mr. Parker
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will consider introducing legislation in the next Session to ban the advertising of cigarettes.
§ Dr. Owen
Recent studies in this country and in other parts of the world confirm previous evidence that smoking is a major danger to health. On the most recent estimates it causes 50,000 premature deaths per year in Great Britain, and a considerable amount of suffering and ill health which it is difficult to quantify in detail.
The Government have a responsibility to respond to this overwhelming medical and scientific evidence of the dangers to health from tobacco products, especially from cigarettes, and which are not confined to those who smoke them.
These responsibilities, in brief, are to introduce safeguards which will minimise the risks to health of smokers who cannot give up the habit; to ensure that nothing is done to persuade non-smokers, especially young people, to take up the habit; and to ensure that all possible information relevant to the risk to health is readily available. Negotiation by successive Governments with the tobacco industry have made only limited progress. The Government believe that this is, at least in part, because the arrangements for bringing independent medical and scientific advice to bear upon Government and industry need to be stronger and have statutory backing.
In the Government's view, what is needed is machinery analogous to that provided for in the Medicines Act 1968 which will enable action to be based on advice from an expert and independent advisory committee after consultation with interests likely to be substantially affected. The application to tobacco products of such provisions would cover the regulation and control of such matters as the use of substitutes and additives, reductions in the yields of tar, nicotine 254W and carbon monoxide, health warnings and information on advertisements and packets, the restriction of promotion and codes of practice for advertising and sponsorship. Although the Government would be prepared to use statutory powers if necessary, to control such matters as advertising, they would aim, wherever possible, to work by means of voluntary agreements with the tobacco and other industries in the light where appropriate of advice given by the independent committee.
I shall be starting consultations with the tobacco industry, the Medicines Commission and the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health about these plans. In the light of these consultations, proposals will be put to Parliament.
While there can be no question of banning the sale of a product used by half the adult population, the Government believe that the way in which tobacco products are made, sold, described and advertised must be subject to the same considerations as other drugs of addiction which can be dangerous to health.