Tobacco

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1998.

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Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

When he expects to publish his White Paper on tobacco. [62451]

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

The White Paper, "Smoking Kills" was published on 10 December 1998.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Is she aware that the pressure group ASHAction on Smoking and Health—recently described the White Paper as the first serious and sustained assault on the enormous burden of illness and death caused by smoking since scientists first brought its dangers to our attention 40 years ago? Is she also aware that, each and every day, about 450 children take up smoking, and that half of all smokers will die from the habit? In the light of the White Paper, what further action will the Government take in their war against smoking?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for that question. I am glad that ASH, and almost every other organisation except the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, welcomed the White Paper's sensible approach and the fact that we have set very clear targets and recognised that achievement will come through the combined efforts of Government and other organisations that can deliver solutions to the many problems that arise.

At the centre of our concern about smoking is the objective of cutting the number of children who take it up in the first place. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the staggering figure of an estimated 450 children a day taking up smoking. The action that we intend to take was clearly set out in the White Paper: tough enforcement, including a ban on advertising, and an unprecedented campaign to start shifting children's attitudes so that they no longer see smoking as a passport to adulthood. We, and all the organisations that we have worked with, recognise that it will take time, which is why we have set targets for 2005 and 2010.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Smoking causes one in seven deaths from heart disease, and my constituency has the highest incidence of heart disease in the country. In my local authority of Salford, the British Heart Foundation runs the Heartstart scheme, which trains young people to give emergency life support to those suffering from heart attacks and teaches them about the causes of heart attacks, including smoking. Does my hon. Friend agree that such schemes help local communities and educate young people about the dire consequences of smoking, and will she commend the scheme to other areas?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I am happy to commend the Heartstart scheme that my hon. Friend mentions. We want to ensure that we do everything we can to spread the benefits of best practice more widely. Next year, we will publish the public health White Paper, which will set clear targets for tackling heart disease, especially in areas where the rate is high, such as my hon. Friend's constituency. I reiterate the point I made earlier: that the White Paper "Smoking Kills" is a critical part of our battle against cancer and our battle to reduce unnecessary deaths from heart disease.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall Labour, Leicester South

I declare an interest as a smoker. Although I welcome the Government's proposals, I am sceptical about their likely success. If the Government are serious about curbing smoking, why do not they adopt a fiscal approach and massively increase the price of cigarettes, so that people cannot afford to buy them? The Government could also levy a windfall tax on the tobacco companies, so that they are no longer so profitable.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

My hon. Friend will see from the White Paper that fiscal measures are part of the battle against smoking, because keeping the price up means that children are less likely to be able to afford them and to take up smoking in the first place.

I emphasise the extent to which all the measures in the White Paper are based on the best available evidence that they work. Seven out of 10 smokers want to give up, and access to smoking cessation services is critical in enabling smokers to do so.

All the evidence from other countries is that one cannot stop children taking up smoking unless tobacco advertising is banned. Our approach to developing the package of proposals announced last week was guided by and rooted in the evidence.