Its Health spokesman, Kevin Barron, has written to Brian Mawhinney, chairman of the Tory party, asking how addicted the Conservatives are to funding by tobacco firms and raising fears that cigarette manufacturers are buying political clout.
The move follows a National Audit Office report last week which confirmed the failure of the Health Department's campaign to cut teenage smoking. A second report, by the Health Education Authority, found that smoking was sharply rising among young people, especially girls. The Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, blamed theresults on the difficulties in changing lifestyles.
"Now we see the effects of the Tories' links with the tobacco industry," said Mr Barron. "We are faced with appalling statistics on the worsening trend in numbers of children smoking. The missed teenage smoking target exposes Tory hypocrisy on tobacco and health. Health ministers talk about the need to reduce smoking, but their political masters are indebted to the tobacco industry. The Conservative party benefits directly from tobacco consumption."
A survey of annual financial reports from tobacco companies shows that "well over half a million pounds" has been donated to the Conservatives since 1991, Mr Barron tells Dr Mawhinney. Other monies have been given to Tory-supporting think-tanks. "Very many people are therefore extremely concerned about the purpose of the financial links between the tobacco companies and your party."
At the 1992 general election, Imperial Tobacco donated 1,028 of its 2,000 prime, permanently leased poster sites for Tory use. Its marketing chief noted that the Tories had promised in their manifesto "that they would vote against the proposed European Union directive on the banning of tobacco advertising".
Tobacco companies that have directly contributed to the Conservatives include the Hanson organisation (pounds 100,000 in 1993, pounds 480,000 since 1990) and Rothmans (pounds 100,000 in 1992). Hanson, the tobacco holding company, and British-American Tobacco have also admitted donations to pro-Tory think-tanks in their annual reports.
Senior Tory MPs also have links with the industry. Sir Jim Lester, MP for Broxtowe, is a paid parliamentary consultant for BAT Industries, earning between pounds 10,000 and pounds 15,000 a year. Former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker is a non-executive director of Hanson plc.
Mr Barron asks in his letter:"Can you explain why your party continues to oppose a ban on tobacco advertising and to block the EU Directive? Is the Conservative position influenced by the fact that tobacco companies are amongst your major donors? If not, what is it that tobacco manufacturers hope to gain in return for their donations?
"Most people will conclude that tobacco funding and Conservative promises on tobacco advertising are linked. If they are not, what is your explanation for the relationship your party maintains with the tobacco industry?
"And how far does this relationship extend? Are tobacco companies 'lending' poster sites to your party for the current negative New Labour campaign? What do they expect as payback for this? Will tobacco interests be letting you use their permanently leased poster sites during the next general- election campaign? Will you have to make more promises on supporting tobacco advertising - as you did in 1992 - to secure these sites?"
During Dr Mawhinney's time as Health minister in 1994, the Cabinet considered an official memorandum stating that "tobacco advertising does affect total consumption, not just brand share. Further restrictions on tobacco advertising ... could therefore be expected to reduce smoking." Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley concluded that such a measure would make the Tories' stance on smoking "more credible", but the Government refused to introduce a ban.
An internal report commissioned by the Department of Health in 1992 found that when Norway, Finland, Canada and New Zealand banned tobacco advertising, consumption fell by between 4 and 9 per cent.
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