Smoking in Public Places

– in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 21st January 2003.

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Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour 2:57 pm, 21st January 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will introduce legislation to ban or to restrict smoking in public places in the United Kingdom in line with such legislation in the United States.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce legislation, but we have worked closely with the hospitality trade to develop a public places charter, designed to provide customers with clear information on the type of smoking policy operating in a particular establishment and to allow them to make an informed choice.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, does the Minister accept the figures put out by the Department of Health today that smoking causes more than 120,000 deaths a year in this country and that many more thousands of people suffer from grave illness caused by active and passive smoking? Surely, it is time for the Government to take vigorous action to dissuade active smokers and protect passive smokers, and in particular to ban smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I agree with the question that I signed yesterday, in relation to statistics, about how many people are killed through smoking in the UK every year. It is a serious problem and the Government take it seriously. That is why we have targets to reduce smoking and why we have expanded our smoking cessation services. However, I do not believe that compulsion is the route down which we should go. I set great store by health promotion programmes and by encouraging industry and the hospitality sector to provide as many alternative smoking and non-smoking facilities as possible. But I do not think that compulsion is the answer.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the department's failure to introduce the approved code of practice to ban smoking in workplaces and in other public places indicates its lack of influence on other government departments or simply the fact that it is extremely half-hearted in making the arguments?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the answers to the questions are no and no. Like the rest of the Government, the Department of Health is committed to a very proactive programme to combat smoking. As for the approved code of practice, we are considering not only the Health and Safety Commission's proposals, but the implications of those proposals on the hospitality sector and small businesses generally. As I said, I believe that the best way forward is a combative programme of public education combined with a partnership approach, particularly with the hospitality sector.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Cigar and Tobacco Smoking Club in both Houses of Parliament. I should like to ask the Minister whether the instances of lung cancer have diminished in the USA since some states took such draconian measures to ban smoking. Is he aware that the Sunday Telegraph has cited the earliest recorded case of a man giving up smoking? The report states that it occurred on 5th April 1679,

"when Johan Katsu, Sheriff of Turku, Finland, wrote in his diary, 'I quit smoking tobacco'. He died one month later".

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Well, my Lords, that is certainly a stark warning that we should be very careful when making claims about the impact of health-promoting campaigns. I do not have the figures on the US experience, but I know that smoking causes 84 per cent of lung cancer deaths. That clearly reinforces the importance of a strong programme to reduce smoking in this country.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Labour

My Lords, I declare a perhaps equal and opposite interest as chairman of Cancer Research UK. Is my noble friend aware of the study carried out across Europe last year which showed that, among non-smokers, there was an increase of between 20 and 30 per cent in the cancer incidence among those exposed to passive smoking? In the light of that evidence and ample other evidence of the dangers of passive smoking, can he say when consideration of the Health and Safety Commission's recommendations will be completed? The department has had more than two years to look at the very clear recommendations on the approved code of practice, and some of us are getting very impatient.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend is impatient. We are still considering the matter, and I cannot give her a definitive date when we shall come to a conclusion. As for the statistics to which she referred, it is absolutely right that, in its 1998 report, the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health concluded that exposure to what is described as "environmental tobacco smoke" is a cause of lung cancer and that the increased risk for those with long-term exposure is in the order of 20 to 30 per cent. That reinforces the point that I made earlier, that we are working actively with industry and particularly with the hospitality trade to develop the public places charter—which I believe provides a very sensible way forward in this area.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, in the interests of the unborn child, will the Minister make a concerted effort to stop pregnant mothers smoking? Babies cannot make an informed choice.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, of course we want to see a reduction in the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy. The 1995 figure is 23 per cent. We have set targets to reduce that to 18 per cent by 2005 and to 15 per cent by 2010. If we reach that target, it would mean that approximately 55,000 fewer women in England smoke during pregnancy.

Photo of Lord Watson of Richmond Lord Watson of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I hardly dare ask this question after the formidable question from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. However, does the Minister believe that, perhaps, given all the circumstances, your Lordships' House might set a better example?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, as ever, this is a matter not for the Department of Health but for the House authorities, who no doubt will take very careful note of the noble Lord's remarks.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, after the big vote on the Adoption and Children Bill, I saw—at least I think I saw—a very eminent Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health in the Guest Room Bar smoking a very, very large cigar and blowing smoke in my general direction? Did the Minister note anything in his diary that night, or should I get new spectacles?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the noble Lord has me banged to rights on that one. But it was a very occasional incident.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, I note that my noble friend said he believes that compulsion is not the road to go down. Is he suggesting that compulsion on airplanes, trains and London Underground has not been successful?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I think that decisions taken by operators to prohibit smoking have proved very popular with the customers of those services. However, those decisions were taken by the public sector and private sector operators themselves. I think it much better that those decisions are taken by individual companies and individual public authorities than by us passing an Act of Parliament to make it happen compulsorily.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister briefly explain how the Government intend to cope with the social disadvantage of those in lower socio-economic groups who—given that 1.3 million workers are exposed for more than 75 per cent of the time in the workplace—run the greatest risk of exposure?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to draw attention to that issue. The NHS Cancer Plan which we published in September 2000 set the additional target that smoking rates among manual groups will be reduced from 32 per cent, in 1998, to 26 per cent, in 2010. As part of our smoking cessation services and campaigns, we are particularly mindful of the point that the noble Baroness has raised.

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether smoking goes on in the Cabinet? Does he consider it a workplace?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Alas, my Lords, I have not yet been invited to a Cabinet meeting. I am reliably informed by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House that smoking does not take place there.