Passive smoking laws are rejected by Bottomley: MPs seek adverts ban as world turns against cigarettes

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE for legislation on passive smoking is being resisted by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health. Her department ruled out any legislation before 1995.

'It's completely wrong to think she is in favour of legislation. She might sound like a nanny at times, but she is against it,' one insider said.

The Department of Health said yesterday that the Government believed in the voluntary approach to reducing smoking. Any threat of legislation to curb passive smoking was 'way, way off', a spokesman said.

A Commons written reply, which raised speculation about legislation on passive smoking, restated the policy announced by Mrs Bottomley's predecessor, William Waldegrave, in the Green Paper The Health of the Nation.

That set the target of achieving smoke free-zones at work for 'a large majority of employees' by 1995. Legislation would only be considered if, by that time, the voluntary pressure was not working, the spokesman added.

Mrs Bottomley is also resisting a European directive to ban advertising of tobacco products. She succeeded in keeping the issue off the agenda during the British presidency, but officials believe a ban is bound to come. Mrs Bottomley is likely to be in a minority at a meeting in May of European health ministers which is expected to review the advertising ban.

More than 200 MPs of all parties, smokers and non-smokers, yesterday voted for a Private Member's Bill to ban tobacco advertising.

Introduced by Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for York, the Bill has little chance of becoming law in a parliamentary timetable controlled by the Government, but adds to the growing pressure for a ban.

'Tobacco is a completely unique product. It is the only product which when used in moderation and as the manufacturer intends, kills people,' Mr Bayley said.

Each year 111,000 people die from smoking - 26,000 from lung cancer and the rest from other diseases caused by the tobacco. Mr Bayley said advertising was targeted at teenagers and children to help fill the gap in the ranks of smokers.

Mr Bayley's Bill would make it illegal to advertise or promote tobacco and products containing tobacco other than at the point of sale. Its introduction to the Commons was approved by 206 votes to 61.

Mrs Bottomley has strongly defended the tobacco companies' freedom to advertise despite setting a target in the Health of the Nation White Paper of reducing smoking by 40 per cent by 2000. The Commons Select Committee on Health last week called for a ban on tobacco advertising after considering a report by Clive Smee, the Department of Health's chief economist.

Among supporters of Mr Bayley's Bill is the former Olympic runner Sebastian Coe, Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne. But opposing the measure, Tim Rathbone, Conservative MP for Lewes, said that it was a 'self-deception' to suggest an advertising ban would achieve Mr Bayley's aims. Research showed price was a bigger deterrent to smoking.

Mr Rathbone, who made clear that he had no connection with the tobacco or advertising industries, said creative advertising in the UK had persuaded people to switch from high tar to low tar cigarettes, reducing the chance of getting cancer from 'this nauseous habit'.