Health written question – answered on 17th March 2004.

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Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

To ask the Secretary of State for Health

(1) what steps he is taking to minimise adverse effects of second hand smoking on the respiratory health of children;

(2) what information is available to new parents about the implications of second hand smoke for the respiratory health of children;

(3) what assessment he has made of the effect of second hand smoke on the respiratory health of babies and young children; and if he will make a statement;

(4) how many children under the age of five are being treated for respiratory conditions; and what estimate he has made of the proportion of these children who live in households with at least one smoker;

(5) what measures he is taking to inform parents of the implications of secondhand smoking for the respiratory health of babies and young children.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

It is estimated that, each year, more than 17,000 children under five years are admitted to United Kingdom hospitals because of respiratory illness caused by the exposure to other people's cigarette smoke.

The Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) Report published in 1998 reported that:

"passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer and childhood respiratory disease.

There is also evidence that passive smoking is a cause of ischaemic heart disease and cot death, middle ear disease and asthmatic attacks in children. Parents need to be informed about the effects of passive smoking on their children".

The World Health Organisation has found that children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. This is because their lungs are smaller and their immune systems less developed, rendering them more susceptible to respiratory and ear infections triggered by passive smoking; children are smaller and breathe faster than adults and so take in more harmful chemicals per kg of weight than adults; and children often have less choice than adults to leave a smoke-filled room.

The Department has taken action to increase the public's awareness of the dangers from secondhand smoke. The "smoking kids" television advertisement launched last summer was this country's first ever-substantial campaign on secondhand smoke. This has been followed up by major billboard and press adverts. Focusing on children, the television advertisement says:

"Every year thousands of children have to go into hospital because of breathing other people's cigarette smoke".

This goes hand in hand with some of the new health warnings on cigarette packs, which highlight the dangers of secondhand smoke, including the specific advice, "protect children—don't let them breath your smoke".

Evaluation results show that awareness of the messages had been raised. Spontaneous awareness of advertising or publicity of smoking around children rose from 30 per cent. at the pre stage to 74 per cent. at the post stage. Furthermore; there was 78 per cent. spontaneous awareness in households where there were children and at least one of the parents smoked. 55 per cent. of respondents were able to spontaneously recall an element from the campaign, with 49 per cent. of respondents recalling the image of smoke coming from the children's mouths or noses. Prompted recognition of the television advertisement was 79 per cent. The advertising had significant impact amongst non-smokers, with 69 per cent. at the post stage agreeing that the advertisements made them feel that they should encourage their partners and friends that they should not smoke around children.

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