Health: 'Two-tier' gibe over anti-smoking drive

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THE GOVERNMENT'S strategy to stop teenage smoking will introduce "means-testing" to the health service, the Tories claimed yesterday as Frank Dobson unveiled measures to help people to "kick the deadly habit".

Alan Duncan, the Tory health spokesman, said the availability of nicotine patches on the NHS only to those on low incomes would create a "two-tier" system of provision. "We can see what the Government is trying to do but it goes against everything Labour has ever said about the health service." Ministers would be "actually introducing a two-tier health system of provision and introduce more of the rationing they say doesn't exist".

However, in his long- awaited Commons statement on the White Paper "Tobacco Kills", Mr Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, said the Government's package was a significant step towards "keeping children from turning to cigarettes". His measure would end tobacco advertising on billboards and in the printed media in this parliamentary session, alongside a crackdown on illegal tobacco sales to youngsters, he said.

While he did not go so far as to enforce no-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants, Mr Dobson made clear smoking caused 84 per cent of lung-cancer deaths. It was the "principal avoidable cause of premature deaths" in Britain and the number of children smoking was going up. "We want to help existing smokers quit the habit and help children ... not to get addicted in the first place." While the Government faced an "uphill struggle"against teenage smoking because tobacco companies were doing all they could to promote sales, that would change. "We are faced with clever ... advertising material to lure youngsters into the habit ... that is because the tobacco industry have to keep recruiting new smokers to make up for the 120,000 of their own loyal customers they kill off every year."

Existing smokers would be helped to give up by an extra pounds 60m for nicotine replacement therapies, he said.

But Mr Duncan, referring to last year's failure to agree a European-wide ban on tobacco sponsorship for Formula One motor racing, said Labour believed advertising was all right "so long as it appears at speeds in excess of 100mph.

"Banning advertising can lead to more price competition and prevent advertising to encourage smokers to switch to less harmful brands," he added.

Challenging the Government over a possible loss of tax revenue, he accused Mr Dobson of having watered down his original intentions in a "much-delayed White Paper". Mr Duncan said: "We look forward to reducing smoking in this country by persuasion rather than bossiness and by concentrating it on the young."

War on smoking, page 12