Smoking – Publicising the danger

Mr M. Lipton (Lab.) asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the House of Commons yesterday what action he would take to co-ordinate the work of Government departments in publicising the danger of lung cancer caused by smoking.

Mr Lipton: Is it not cowardly or at least half-hearted for the Government to leave the whole of this important task to local councils? Aren’t you well qualified to conduct a nation-wide campaign?

Dr Hill: The statutory responsibility of health education rests on local authorities and they can and will engage in health education on this subject.

Stopping smoking [leader]

What are the heavy smokers among us to do now? “Stop smoking,” is the simple answer, but it is unlikely that a public pronouncement will have a dramatic effect on habits ingrained over several years. So it is natural to look to the Government for help. In many ways the Government has already done a good deal. The public endorsement given last week to the proposition that smoking can cause lung cancer should have some effect.

The Government’s only fault has been that of procrastination. But what else can be done now? Could there be some form of direct legislation against smoking that would have some real effect, and which could not run counter to British susceptibilities? It is hard to think of any. There is no evidence that smokers harm anybody but themselves; so an act forbidding smoking in public places would have no more moral validity than one prohibiting it altogether; it could not be argued that such a prohibition was needed to protect non-smokers from smokers.

There is certainly something to be done in the field of publicity. Probably there is scope for action in the schools, but even here there are difficulties. Schoolteachers cannot reasonably be asked to lecture about lung cancer. There seems to be a case for asking doctors to give regular talks to schools, or for including material like this in the broadcasts for schools.

It may be suggested that taxation penalising cigarette-smokers as against those who smoke pipes would drive the former to a less dangerous form of their indulgence. Unfortunately the comparative statistical innocuousness of tobacco pipes seems to be due in part to the fact that their users do not inhale. Converts from cigarettes might not be so judicious. These are only some of the pitfalls in the way of direct action by the Government. It is all very well calling it “cowardly and half-hearted”. But what steps do the critics propose?


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