Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620
THURSDAY 20 JANUARY 2000
MR S CLARK,
MR D SWAN
620 It is a fairly important point from the Health
Committee's point of view, is it not?
(Mr Clark) Of course it is, but you need
to ask doctors. I am here to represent the freedom argument and
621 I am very impressed by your letterhead which
list a Supporters Council which seems to be largely from the House
of Lords and an Advisory Council with a large number of academics.
I am afraid I do not recognise them all, but I can spot one or
two economists and an historian or two. Do you think you might
let the Committee have a list of the academic interests of the
people on your Advisory Council? Before you give us the list,
which you can do in writing, are there any medically qualified
or life sciences qualified academics on your Advisory Council?
(Mr Clark) I will be perfectly honest.
I have been in the job for a year and I have never met any of
622 With all due respect, what is the point of
having an Advisory Council if you have not met them and at the
same time you are saying you are not qualified to evaluate evidence
which relates to your activity. If you have an activity like promoting
the freedom to smoke, then clearly you need to be informed on
the various aspects related to smoking and therefore it is very
sensible to have an Advisory Council. However, I would expect
that Advisory Council to be made up of people with relevant experience
and expertise so that it can actually advise you, so you cannot
sit there and say you cannot answer that one because you do not
have the qualifications.
(Mr Clark) I can answer that question.
We have never pretended to be medical experts. The arguments we
get into have nothing to do, generally speaking, with health.
Our arguments are all about whether adults, having been informed
about the health risk, should have the liberty to continue to
623 I am sorry, but you said just now, in response
to my colleagues' question on passive smoking and asthma in children,
that you did not accept the evidence. How can you not accept the
evidence if you have not put yourself in a position to evaluate
that evidence by using your own advisory people?
(Mr Clark) Because we see a lot of the
reports which are in the newspapers and a lot of the comments
about passive smoking. We see what the World Health Organisation
has said about it, we see what the courts in America and Australia
have said about it, we see what the Health & Safety Commission
in this country have said about it and basically we make sure
that journalists and politicians such as yourself hear that point
of view as well. We are not saying we are medical experts, we
are simply passing on what medical experts like the World Health
Organisation have said about it themselves. We are repeating what
they have said.
Dr Brand: I am sorry but you are being frightfully
selective in quoting reports by some very respected bodies. It
is also true that the World Health Organisation has come out quite
clearly saying that there is a direct link in childhood asthmas
and childhood respiratory diseases and smoking, as indeed advisory
committees to the British Government have come out with.
624 The Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health,
which is after all a fairly august and reputable body and this
is evidence from them, have considered the effect of environmental
tobacco smoke. They say that exposure to ETS is a cause of ischaemic
heart disease. It is associated with risks in the order of 20
to 30 per cent increase in lung cancer. Smoking in the presence
of infants and children is a cause of severe respiratory illness
and asthmatic attacks. The main cause of neo-natal death, sudden
infant death syndrome, in the first year of life is associated
with exposure to ETS. The association is judged to be one of cause
and effect. Middle ear disease in children is linked to pre-natal
smoking and this association is likely to be causal. This is pretty
solid evidence and you are saying that the jury is still out.
If this is pretty solid evidence from the Scientific Committee
on Tobacco and Health, how can your body seriously say the jury
is out and you do not have either a knowledge or an interest in
(Mr Clark) May I read to you a small
section from this book by our Chairman, Lord Harris of High Cross.
I have already sent a copy of this book to the Health Committee
and am more than happy to send copies to each one of you. This
talks about exposure to ETS as a cause of lung cancer and in those
with long-term exposure the increased risk is of the order of
20 to 30 per cent which is what you have just said. This is a
classic example of statistics being used to make a point. In actual
practice let us put that in its real perspective. At the moment
the average annual risk for non-smokers of getting lung cancer
is apparently 10 per 100,000 people. For every 100,000 people,
10 non-smokers may get lung cancer although they do not smoke.
If you add in the increased risk as a result of ETS, that is 20
to 30 per cent, we are talking about 12 or 13 people per 100,000,
an additional two or three victims per 100,000 people. That is
how you have to put it in its real perspective. It is no good
just quoting 20 or 30 per cent; that is almost meaningless.
Chairman: Not for the people concerned; not
for those individuals.
625 I would take severe issue with that as I
am sure anyone else would. The fact is that there were something
like 14,000 to 15,000 deaths from lung cancer in this country,
80 per cent of which were tobacco caused. That means about 35,000
lung cancer deaths in this country are caused by smoking. If it
is an increase of 20 to 30 per cent, the figures you quoted and
the figures I am quoting simply do not add up. A 20 to 30 per
cent increased risk is very significant. As the Chairman says,
to tell the family not to worry because it is only two or three
per 100,000, if we had a drug which caused two or three deaths
per 100,000 it would be a serious public health matter and the
Prime Minister would need to answer it.
(Mr Clark) May I explain the FOREST position
which is that even if smoking were twice as dangerous as it is
said to be, we would still stick to our line because I do not
get involved in the health debate. We accept that there are health
risks associated with smoking. Our whole raison d'etre
is to support an adult's right, if given the information, to be
allowed to smoke. Words like epidemic have been used by the World
Health Organisation, which seems a bizarre term to use. If it
is such a terrible thing, such a terrible risk, then politicians
surely would ban it. That is not happening, for a whole variety
of reasons I suspect, financial and all sorts of other things.
It can be twice as dangerous as it is said to be, but we would
still support an adult's right to choose to smoke if that is what
they wish to do.
626 Despite solid evidence that right infringes
the right and indeed the lives of other people.
(Mr Clark) I still say I believe, from
the evidence we have looked at, the passive smoking debate, that
the jury is still out.
Dr Stoate: Not according to the Scientific Committee.
627 We have had evidence in respect of the amount
of funding that FOREST gets from tobacco companies. Could you
clarify how much of the funding overall, proportionwise, comes
from the tobacco companies and how much from individuals? What
is your total overall budget?
(Mr Clark) Our total overall budget is
about £250,000 a year and 96 per cent of that comes from
the industry. We have certainly never hidden that.
628 But you describe yourselves as a wholly independent
(Mr Clark) Yes.
629 How can you be independent when 96 per cent
of your income comes from tobacco companies?
(Mr Clark) I can explain the history
of FOREST. It was originally set up in 1979 by a former Battle
of Britain pilot. The story goes that he was standing on Reading
station puffing away at his pipe and some lady walked up to him
and told him to put it out. He basically decided to set up an
organisation. It was not set up by the industry, but independently
with this chap, Christopher Foxley-Norris, and a few of his pals.
Obviously they had to look round for funding in order to set up
an office. I would love to get funding from all sorts of different
sources. I should love to go to other areas which I believe might
be under attack in future years from what I call the nanny state.
I should love to go to breweries for example. I should love to
go to car manufacturers and ask for some money. Realistically
they are not interested in the smoking debate. So for an organisation
like FOREST to exist, we have to go to the tobacco companies;
I make no apologies for it.
630 Frankly, rather than you being wholly independent,
you are a front for the tobacco manufacturers basically.
(Mr Clark) We would only be a front if
they told us what to do, if they appointed the staff at FOREST.
I had never met anybody from the industry before I came to FOREST.
631 Surely he who pays the piper calls the tune
(Mr Clark) I must confess in our case
I can actually say it does not appear to be the case. I have not
been told what to do at all. For the last 15 years I have been
freelance, therefore I have had a lot of freedom to come and go,
do whatever I want. I would not have taken the job at FOREST had
I thought I was going to have a boss above me telling me what
to do. It simply has not happened.
632 You said you had never met the TMA before
you took the job. Do you now report to the TMA as to outcomes
of your campaigns?
(Mr Clark) Absolutely not. I will say
that there was one thing I did do for the TMA ten years ago which
was that I used to run a thing called the Media Monitoring Unit,
we monitored BBC and ITV for political bias. I briefly set up
a little organisation called the Centre for Media Research and
Analysis. We did a report into the media coverage of the smoking
debate in 1989 and I did meet Clive Turner who was John Carlisle's
predecessor, so he is the one person I have met from the TMA ten
years previously. No, in the year since I have been at FOREST
this is only the second time I have met Mr Swan. I met him a few
months ago at my request because I wanted to go round the various
companies and the TMA and simply meet people involved in the smoking
debate. I even meet people from the anti-smoking side. I have
obviously met Clive Bates of ASH through interviews. I have had
lunch with a few people from the tobacco companies simply to make
myself known and get to meet them. I have invited Clive Bates
for lunch. He has not yet taken me up on my offer but I hope he
will in the future.
633 Mr Swan, how do you determine whether you
have had value for money from FOREST?
(Mr Swan) I am sorry, there is a misunderstanding
here. We have no financial or any other relationship with FOREST;
none at all.
634 It is done through your members rather than
through you as an organisation.
(Mr Swan) Sure; absolutely; yes.
635 You are describing yourself this morning
as the voice and friend of the smoker. Can you give some or any
examples of occasions when you have defended smokers' interests
against the tobacco companies?
(Mr Clark) Two things on that. First
of all, there are so many organisations attacking the tobacco
industry or claiming to be helping smokers either to give up or
in their battle against the tobacco industry. We are a media lobbying
group. The fact of the matter is that we have a sort of niche
market. We are the only group which does what we do, which is
defend the interests of the vast majority of smokers and help
individual smokers if they have problems with the NHS or Customs
& Excise or whoever it might be. We have a niche there. If
we were to turn round and help smokers attack the industry, there
are lots of other groups who can do that. If any smoker wants
to do that and they ring us up, we simply give them the number
of ASH and say that is an organisation which will help them. We
are happy to do that. If any smoker rings us up and says they
want to quit, we give them the Quitline number. That is not our
purpose. That is not what we are here for. There are plenty of
other organisations which do that.
636 You say you are aware of the health risks
with smoking, so you have not taken any action on product information
or concern about additives in cigarettes.
(Mr Clark) As well as the money we get
from the industry we have several hundred supporters who contribute
to us each year from £5 to £200. To my knowledge we
have never had one of those supporters ask us to take up one of
those issues. If a number of our supporters asked us to do that
we would certainly look into it. While there appears to be no
demand for it from our supporters, the vast majority of whom are
smokers, then quite frankly I am not going to waste my time doing
something they do not appear to want us to do. They want us to
get out there and sell this message of tolerance, courtesy, common
sense, ways of accommodating smokers in society, and that is the
message we put across.
637 You say in your memorandum that "...
adults should be allowed to make up their own minds about whether
or not they wish to startor continuesmoking".
We have had a discussion about this. Certainly with the parameters
I mentioned of environmental tobacco smoke I would actually agree
with you that if adults are fully informed they should be able
to make up their minds as to whether to start or continue smoking.
I have no problem with that at all. The question I want to ask
is: what percentage of smokers do you estimate actually start
smoking as adults?
(Mr Clark) I have absolutely no idea
to be honest. As long as they are adult smokers, we will defend
their right to smoke. I do not have any statistics for the stage
638 If I were to tell you then that something
in the order of 80 per cent of smokers start smoking by the age
of about 15 or 16 and that one third of 15-year-old girls are
regular smokers, would that concern you, with your message?
(Mr Clark) Our message is based on defending
the right of adult smokers but clearly we are completely against
under-age smoking. We come out very strongly and say that we would
do anything we could to help children not smoke. I would put this
in its proper perspective in society. I have two small children
myself aged five and two. I do not want them to smoke. I shall
hopefully influence them not to smoke by the fact that I do not
smoke myself, but when they get to their teenage years if they
show an inclination to smoke I shall probably give them some literature
which will hopefully put them off.
639 I am not so worried about the late teenage
years because it is legal, as you say.
(Mr Clark) I am talking about early teenage