Cigarettes (Health Hazards)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th February 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Willesden West

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it illegal to sell packets of cigarettes which are not clearly marked with a warning of the health hazards which arise from smoking. My proposed Bill is very small and would be only a small contribution towards the solution of a very large problem. I submit to the House that it is desirable at this stage of the big debate which has been going on in the country ever since the first report on cigarette smoking as a factor in illness, and since the Medical Research Council's statement received Government support in June, 1957, that adequate steps should be taken to make people who are smoking aware of the hazards which arise from that action. There should be at least a warning on each packet of cigarettes about the known hazards which have now been scientifically and technically agreed upon in all parts of the world by a large number of research bodies.

I want to make it quite clear that the health hazards are known quantities. There is always debate about other things which also form health hazards, but the hazards arising from cigarette smoking are known. There is no need for further argument or research on this point between scientists and doctors. What is difficult is to convey this knowledge to the general public and to those who are smoking large quantities of cigarettes, which, in spite of the number of reports of a scientific nature which have been published, each year still seem to sell in larger quantities than were sold the year before. We are especially concerned with young people who are acquiring the habit, rather than with those with whom the habit is perhaps settled and for whom perhaps the warning serves no great useful purpose.

I am trying to emphasise the need to warn about health rather than to warn about death. The purpose of the Bill is to enlarge the area of education and knowledge rather than to enlarge the area of threat and fear. I believe that in this subject we have got past the stage where the threat that if a person smokes he will die carries much weight. We know that from lung cancer there is a death every 20 minutes, that today there will be 72 deaths, and that by the end of the week there will have been 500 deaths.

This means nothing to most smokers. One can say as often as one likes that there are 26,000 deaths a year from lung cancer, but it means no more to a teenager than does the risk that he will be killed if he "does a ton" on his motorbike. What I am trying to ensure, in short, is that each packet of cigarettes carries adequate warning of the hazards to health in a form approved by the Minister of Health.

Just as important as lung cancer are the two other major matters which affect health in this country. The first is the living death which can arise from chronic bronchitis. The second is the increasing number of people dying from coronary thrombosis. I am concerned that more people shall be aware about them. Last week I had the opportunity of going into a hospital ward where men were dying of lung cancer. The thing that rather arrested my attention was the man who was gasping for breath; he was suffering from chronic bronchitis and had been so gasping for six years.

Others will know of people whose lungs are more or less gone, but who live on year after year and who struggle for every breath they have to breathe and are invalids, to be nursed by others. These diseases are taking an increasing toll. The risk of a person who smokes contracting coronary thrombosis is 70 per cent. higher than the risk of a person who does not smoke contracting it.

Richard Doll, who is one of the most eminent experts in this field and who was partly responsible for the very first reports which started all this discussion, estimates that at least 15,000 deaths from chronic bronchitis and at least 10,000 deaths of people under the age of 55 from heart diseases can be attributed directly to the causal effects of smoking.

On each packet of cigarettes I would like to see a warning, approved by the Minister of Health, explaining just what the situation is, and certainly stating the tar and nicotine content. The question arises whether it would impose too great a burden on the industry to put a warning notice on every packet. The profits of British American Tobacco last year rose by £4·3 million to a new record of £74 million. The profits of Imperial Tobacco Company rose from £28 million in 1960 to £31·7 million in 1963. In the light of the expenditure of nearly £10 million on advertising cigarettes, and since, in any case, the cigarette packet has to be printed, I submit that it would be no great burden on the industry to be required to put an adequate notice on each packet.

I submit also that this would be similar to the warning that, the Minister of Transport puts on the M1 when there are ice and fog about. Of necessity, the Bill would include penalties for manufacturers who fail to comply with the law, but I do not think that this is very important. I think that most manufacturers would willingly accept this obligation. In fact, I hope that one company will take this step without waiting for the Bill to get any further in the House. There would, of course, be no penalties—unlike for the hazards of death from road accidents—for failing to comply with the warning. It would merely mean that smokers were warned, and that if one did not comply it was one's own responsibility.

What the Bill would not do is to prohibit smoking in any way or interfere with free choice to smoke or not to smoke in any age group; and people generally would continue to smoke if they so decided. It would not curtail advertising it would not affect smoking in public places and it does not suggest any intervention by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I said, it is a small Bill.

I apologise for speaking about cigarettes on Ash Wednesday, but since this is a serious season, I hope that hon. Members nay be persuaded to take this matter extremely seriously. I hope that the House will not decide this issue on prejudices. One of the things that has bedevilled this issue is that people have taken attitudes of moral good or bad. The Bill would seek the introduction of a statement of fact. It would in some measure show that the Government propose to implement their own policy. This would be made apparent to every person every time he felt the need to light a cigarette.

Much more needs to be done than this small Bill, but I hope that it will go out to the country that at least in this House we take this, problem seriously and that we hope, in this small way, to start the process of moving away from pious platitudes and exhortations to more positive action.

Question, put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Pavitt, Mr. Lubbock, Sir B. Stross, Dr. Dickson Mabon, Mr. F. Noel-Baker, Mr. Milne, Mrs. Slater, Mr. C. Royle, Mr. Lipton, and Sir C. Black.