The end of 1962 can be seen as marking the start of modern policy-making on smoking and health: resistance to intervention was on the retreat and considerations and arguments still current today were elaborated, often for the first time. The proliferation of paper, as numerous avenues for possible action were explored, means that only an abbreviated treatment is appropriate here, and that biassed towards the residual official resistance to action, the personal contributions of Ministers and the rearguard actions of the industry. This means passing over comparatively lightly the solid exploration of practical policy which predominates on the files.
At the end of 1962 Lord Hailsham reaffirmed his personal interest in the subject: Cary in the Cabinet Office had enquired whether the committee of officials should continue to report to him as chairman of the Cabinet committee, still theoretically in existence, so that Hailsham ‘would continue to be the Government spokesman in this matter’, or should instead report through departmental Ministers. Lord Hailsham wrote:
I am, I think, the senior non-smoker in the Cab. The more power you can get for me and for Mr Powell in this matter the better the Govt. will come out of it in the end. H. of M. [i.e., Hailsham of Marylebone]
At this time the Ministry of Health became concerned about various methods of sales promotion for cigarettes. A paper to the Committee of Officials at the end of November expressed concern that free packs of Piccadilly cigarettes had been posted to senior civil servants and perhaps others, and that free packs of Ardath cigarettes had been put through front doors in Stevenage. ‘Advertisements for Wembley cigarettes, publicising free stamps for Cope’s football pools, are being pressed on all members of the public, including young children, outside stations in some parts of London’. Most particularly, the Ministry was concerned about ‘coupon’ promotion of brands – i.e., offering free goods from a catalogue in exchange for points or coupons collected from cigarette packs – by both Imperial and Gallaher. The paper cited the Embassy scheme’s promise of 100 free points if 650 were produced by 30 April 1963 – which would require smoking almost 20 a day – and alleged that literature for the Kensitas gift scheme was being posted to girls in a secondary modern school in North London.
The Board of Trade were scathing in their internal comments on this paper and put out a detailed paper on coupon schemes, tracing their history to the 1920s and quoting a 1932 Board of Trade committee that had decided they were ‘not harmful to the public interest’. They reported that Carreras, which had no coupon brand, felt under some commercial pressure to introduce one but would prefer Government discouragement of such schemes on the grounds that they stimulated consumption rather than brand competition. The Board of Trade disagreed, seeing them as a legitimate trading method unlikely to proliferate as they had in the 1930s.
However, when the officials’ committee met on 11 January 1963 they recommended to Lord Hailsham that coupon trading was a matter of concern calling for a fresh meeting with the industry. (The Board of Trade formally dissociated themselves from this recommendation: the discussion appears to have been vigorous and led Cary to write to Miss Boyes: ‘If I may say so, I do not think that at Friday’s meeting you left us in any doubt about the Board of Trade view; you were admirably clear in exposition. The difficulty was rather that some of us were unable to agree with it!’)
In the event separate meetings were held in May and June with each of the three main companies, in which each defended its own patch and regretted the tactics of its competitors. Cary recommended to Lord Hailsham that they ‘let matters run for the time being’, and he agreed, but stipulated that the manufacturers
be told informally of the view (which I hold) of the imprudence from their own point of view of embarking in the present atmosphere on any method of sales promotion which justly or unjustly excites adverse comment. It could only lead to renewed public agitation for restriction of advertising which the Government no less than manufacturers would wish to avoid.’
Attempts were later made to induce the manufacturers to agree with each other a voluntary restriction on advertising expenditure (it was first established that there would be no objection to such an agreement under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act), but these failed as the companies jockeyed for advantage.
Meantime, if Carreras felt under pressure from its bigger rivals’ coupon brands, they in turn were worried about its expanding advertising programme. Early in February Miss Boyes at the Board of Trade had a telephone call from Imperial’s Partridge seeking a meeting with the President of the Board of Trade, Frederick Erroll, for his chairman, R W Clarke, and Mr Mason, the chairman of Gallahers. ‘What appears to be worrying the two firms is the pressure which they feel upon them to maintain and possibly extend their advertising as a result of Carreras’ drive and the fear that this may be thought to be inconsistent with the Government’s attitude on smoking and health.’
In preparation for that meeting, the two companies provided extensive briefing which showed that spending on tobacco advertising had risen from £9 mn. in 1961 to £11 mn. in 1962 and that within the total Carreras’ share had leapt from 14% to 21%, even though its market share was under 5%. The two big companies (Imperial had 59% and Gallaher, expanding rapidly, 36%) had tried to negotiate with Carreras a limit on spending on television and press advertising, both in total and in particular on coupon brands, but the talks had collapsed. Erroll was briefed for the meeting with a summary of the Government’s actions (‘Both the Minister of Health and the Lord President would have liked to go a good deal further than this and are disposed to take a fairly forceful line in public statements’):
All this leaves the manufacturers in what is now an extremely competitive business in an invidious position. They are very conscious of their public face and do not wish their advertising to appear to be operating in opposition to Government policy. On the other hand the Monopolies Commission has told them [in a recent report] that they must be competitive and in any case the aggressive growth of Carreras is forcing them to be so. The bigger companies might be excused for feeling that a ban on advertising would have certain advantages; it would almost certainly strengthen their hold on the market.
The brief hastened to rule out any such ban on advertising and to warn that even if the companies could agree a limit it might fall foul of the regulations on restrictive practices.
When Erroll met the two companies on 22 February, they set out their concerns and he urged them to ‘be statesmanlike for a further year to see how the pattern developed’, pointing out that ‘the opponents of smoking could mount a most damaging case: cigarette advertisements and cancer deaths had both increased in 1962 and this showed the lack of response by the industry to a major national problem’.
At the Ministry of Health Bernard Braine, the Parliamentary Secretary, received a deputation from the Advertising Inquiry Council. This was a voluntary pressure group, involving Charles Fletcher and other doctors, Francis Noel-Baker MP and representatives of the churches, teachers and others. (Selby-Boothroyd wrote a minute describing them as ‘a small band of self-appointed reformers anxious to carry on the unfinished work of the late Oliver Cromwell’.) The Council had produced a report condemning tobacco advertising in April 1962 and now they drew attention to the growth of advertising and of coupon brands and the recovery of cigarette sales against a background of ineffective Government action. They called for control of advertising, including a ban on television advertising, and a full-scale publicity campaign.
Dr Fletcher said that it was his conviction, based on talking with his patients, that the public disregarded mere exhortation from the government. The public would not believe that the government was serious in its campaign until it took effective action . . .
The Parliamentary Secretary [Bernard Braine] said that he must reject any suggestion that the Ministry was not serious in its campaign. This was, however, a task of persuasion, not compulsion . . . Over 1 million posters had been distributed, appropriate film rights had been acquired and films had also been produced or were in preparation; the mobile education vans were fully booked and the establishment of anti-smoking clinics was encouraged.
The campaign was indeed beginning to lose some of its amateurish nature. The Central Office of Information tested new poster designs in focus group discussions (‘Yes I smoke but then I’m just another sheep . . .’ won little support, and a coffin labelled ‘Flip-top box for Smokers’ was thought ‘too far-fetched, ridiculous and untrue’) and they wrote a 50-page report after similar testing of the film Smoking and You (recording that smokers were far more difficult to convince than non-smokers). New posters were sent out to the press – in November 1963, two, called ‘Father and Son’ and ‘Mother and Daughter’, carried the caption: ‘Think before you smoke: Are you setting a good example?’ A three-month £12,000 campaign was launched in January 1964 in twelve weekly and three monthly boys’ and girls’ magazines with advertisements featuring ‘Bobby Moore – professional footballer (England and West Ham) . . . Jim Clark – world Motor Racing Champion . . . Diane Clifton Peach – Olympic Ice Skating Champion . . .the President of the Cambridge University Boat Club . . . ‘ (Oxford had not yet replied). Short ‘filmlets’ were prepared for showing on BBC television.
The Ministry sent a circular to Regional Hospital Boards on smoking in hospitals (‘particularly inappropriate . . . the general attitude . . . should . . .be one of discouragement. On the other hand, a complete ban will not usually be practicable at present’). The Health Education Coordinating Committee was told in October 1963 that at the Ministry’s request non-smoking accommodation on two London Underground lines had been experimentally extended to two-thirds of the carriages. The campaign budget was increasing, £10,000 was budgeted in 1963/64 for a public opinion survey, and in January 1964 a 39-page report was circulated. (Thirty-eight percent of adults wished to quit smoking, 14% already had; one in three current smokers thought their health was being affected; two in every three adults thought smoking should be banned in theatres and cinemas and large minorities supported bans in restaurants, buses and offices. Between 24% and 33% even of adult smokers favoured banning advertising in various media. The commentary, however, found little encouragement in these figures.) Another survey was carried out at a cost of £15,000 in May/June 1964. The BBC television soap opera Compact, set in the offices of a women’s magazine, had a storyline about a feature on stopping smoking; a National Savings poster depicting young people smoking was withdrawn and the Ministry of Health passed on complaints to the BBC about excessive smoking in Z-Cars.
Even so, attitudes were still unsure and equivocal. When a press officer, L W Jefferies, suggested to Dodds, the Ministry of Health undersecretary, that ‘increased Government sponsored advertising on T.V. should not necessarily be ruled out because of the fear of massive retaliation by the tobacco firms. The message we want to put over is a strong one and is difficult to counter or to swamp . . .’ the thought was novel enough for Dodds to annotate it: ‘A very interesting expression of views which we should keep with our pps. [papers] on advertising.’ The Treasury complained that the Ministry of Health was breaking the rules by not charging for the hire of its films on smoking and health (but later backed down). Heald wrote from the Ministry to Buckinghamshire’s Medical Officer of Health about a proposed postal franking slogan ‘Cigarettes can Kill’ to which the post office was objecting: ‘I cannot help feeling that it goes a bit far and cannot fail to be open to strong criticism (not wholly unjustifiable) that it represents undue exaggeration and is, therefore, in breach of the principles of the code of advertising practice. For this reason, and because we feel that it is unwise psychologically and practically to overstate our case, I very much regret that I cannot support your case with the G.P.O. and their agents . . . ‘
The Ministry of Education reported that teachers were ‘discouraged in their efforts to press home government propaganda against smoking’ by ‘the lack hitherto of positive action by the government vis-à-vis advertising, especially T.V. advertising’ and in the Health Education Coordinating Committee there was continued criticism of the inadequacy of the campaign: the representatives of the BMA and the Association of Municipal Corporations claimed that ‘many people and local authorities regarded the Government’s ambivalent attitude to television advertising as proving that they were only half-hearted about the subject.’
The degree of ambivalence in that attitude was made fully apparent when the BMA representative on the ITA’s Advertising Advisory Committee moved a total ban on tobacco advertising. The Committee comprised four members each from advertising, from public life and from the medical world, including the Ministry of Health. Its advice was for the time being mandatory on the ITA (this was due to change shortly when the Television Act 1963 came into force). On 29 January 1964 the Postmaster General, Reginald Bevins, wrote to Anthony Barber, who had replaced Enoch Powell as Minister of Health, seeking that the Ministry’s representative on the Committee should not vote for a television advertising ban:
Whatever the merits of a ban itself, I must confess that such action by a Ministry of Health official cannot fail to be construed as a direct result of a Government decision that cigarette advertising on television should be banned. It seems to me that your representative should continue to abstain. . . The feeling [at the Cabinet on 12 July 1962] was that if the Government is seen to exercise influence in one field of advertising then the whole question of compulsory control of advertising generally cannot fail to come into question.
Barber wrote: ‘Could Mr Dodds be considering a short statement for our representative to make which would set out the Govt’s position (as decided by Cabinet), but without his voting in favour of the ban. I think that the P.M.G. has a cogent argument here.’ However, he seems to have been persuaded otherwise: the same day, he received a minute from the deputy secretary A W France referring to a proposal by Quintin Hogg (as Lord Hailsham had now become) to reconvene his Cabinet committee on smoking:
The Secretary (who is now away till tomorrow) was opposed to the revival of the L.P.’s committee. But I do not think it will be possible to stop it, especially as we are now in some dispute with the Post Office about the action to be taken. That being so, I think we should use the L.P.’s committee to settle our line in the ITA’s Advertising Advisory Committee.
and later that day he wrote to Hogg. Government policy had hitherto, he wrote, been not to ‘pick out television from the other advertising media and apply a ban on it’ but this was now a new situation and ‘it might seem odd for the Ministry of Health representative to fail to support a move that is designated to further this [government publicity] campaign’.
The Ministerial Committee met on 5 February. In discussion, it was said that if the Ministry of Health representative voted for a ban, it would imply that the Postmaster General should enforce a ban even if the Advisory Committee voted against it and would imply that the Government should ‘seek powers to stop cigarette advertising in other media’. But it would be odd for a Ministry of Health representative on an independent body not to support such a proposal. ‘To do so could, if known, be represented as indicating that the Government were not ready to accept the implications of their declared view that smoking was a danger to health.’ It was decided that the Ministry of Health should abstain but should not argue against the ban, rather quoting the Government decision not to single out television, and should ‘strongly attack’ any suggestion that the connection between smoking and lung cancer was not established.
In the event the Committee rejected the proposal for a ban, deciding merely to prohibit advertisements ‘suggesting that it was better from a health point of view to smoke one brand of cigarette rather than another’.
The Ministerial Committee had been revived in order to consider the first report from the US Surgeon General on smoking and health, published in January 1964. This was a detailed scientific survey of all the research, by contrast with the Royal College of Physicians’ report, which was written for the general public. The subordinate committee of officials met on 29 January, being told by their chairman, Cary, according to Selby-Boothroyd’s report on the Board of Trade file, that
this new burst of interest was prompted by Mr Hogg (who was described as ‘having the bit between his teeth’), following the publication of the U.S. report . . . It was suggested by the chairman that once a start was made on banning advertising it would be a ‘slippery slope’ which could end only in a total ban on all forms of sales promotion – with nationalisation of the industry as the only way of doing it . . .
The Ministry of Health (Mr Dodds) suggested that all cigarette packets might be made to carry a warning, such as ‘cigarettes cause lung cancer’, but this seemed too much for the rest of the Committee . . .
It is very clear that there is a firm conviction that the manufacturers can be ‘directed’ under the shadow of their fear that legislation will otherwise be introduced. So long as this attitude (which I do not admire) continues, I think it is important that we should attend these meetings.
The Committee, whose initial view was that the US report did not advance in principle beyond the Royal College of Physicians’ report two years earlier, despite its greater detail, prepared over the next few months a detailed paper for the Ministerial Committee on the American report and its possible implications.
In their report, issued in mid-June, they noted that the US report had led to the US industry adopting a much more detailed code of advertising practice than the British one and to the Federal Trade Commission requiring mandatory health warnings on all cigarette packs and advertisements. The committee of officials was attracted by the potential effectiveness of packet warnings but troubled by the principle of requiring manufacturers to discourage the use of their own products. The officials saw no advantage in the American advertising code but were concerned at the growth of tobacco advertising and rehearsed the arguments for and against a ban on television advertising without reaching any recommendation. They reported that smokers of coupon brands smoked more heavily than others – but that the manufacturers had suggested that such brands attracted heavy smokers rather than stimulating heavy smoking.
They recommended requests not to smoke in post offices, employment exchanges and other Government offices open to the public but opposed legislation to impose a ban. They opposed differential taxation of cigarettes as against cigars and pipe tobacco but seem not to have considered a straightforward increase in taxation all round, although their arguments about the effects on poor smokers and on the cost of living index show that they were unlikely to have welcomed the idea. They still opposed any large-scale advertising campaign in the mass media in competition with tobacco advertising (‘even £1 million per year . . . would still be much less than the advertisers spend, but yet far more public money than the Government could, we suggest, properly spend’) but they proposed that some paid advertising on public transport and at stations would help reach ‘the mass of the adult working population’ with whom little contact had yet been made.
This was the only positive recommendation in the report. Dodds, the Ministry of Health undersecretary, will have been disappointed: in a minute he had written to the deputy secretary A W France that this extension of the publicity campaign was one of the department’s main objects, but
I would myself put the banning of cigarette advertising on television right at the top of the priorities as the measure most likely to impress on the public and on those who are working with us in the health education campaign that the Government really believes that cigarettes are a serious danger to health and is in earnest in its efforts to reduce this danger. I would put the warning on cigarette packets second and non-smoking notices in Government offices a poor third.
He got none of the three.
In the Board of Trade Selby-Boothroyd was relieved: sending the report to his new undersecretary, M M Ord Johnstone, he wrote: ‘It is an honest report, even if the M. of Health may be disappointed, and it does not recommend any plunge into legislation.’ Johnstone replied complacently: ‘I agree with you that the report is a commendably honest document – the kind of thing, in fact, which shews the Civil Service at its rare best.’
The Ministerial Committee considered the officials’ report on 30 June. Noting public criticism of the limited nature of their interventions, they speculated that ‘people, while continuing to smoke as before, were now more anxious about the effects of smoking and more likely to criticise the Government for not taking effective steps to reduce smoking; but it did not follow that any such measures would necessarily be more welcome to public opinion than previously’. Thus bolstering their unwillingness to take action, they agreed to the limited advertising campaign recommended, deferred until after the impending General Election consideration of warnings on packets, and decided against any further steps on any other front. Quintin Hogg, doubtless disappointed, was asked to report their conclusions to the Prime Minister.
Four months later there was a change of Government. On 30 October one of his staff sent J P Dodds at the Ministry of Health a press cutting quoting Harold Wilson, the new Prime Minister, as having said before the election: ‘The advertisements for cigarettes should certainly now be stopped – certainly on television – and I don’t see why we shouldn’t ask all the newspaper proprietors to cut them out in newspapers.’ Dodds prepared a draft letter for his Minister to send to colleagues suggesting a meeting to clarify the new Government’s policy.
1. PRO file CAB 124.1674 [back]
2. The Board of Trade found itself obliged to take on the role of bringing apparent abuses to the companies’ attention. Selby-Boothroyd, while mocking the whole idea, took inordinate pride in having won an apology in August 1963 from Gallaher when the father of a 17-year-old girl complained about 1,000 cigarettes being offered as a prize in a ‘twist’ (dancing) competition: he was still boasting of it in a brief written in January 1964 – PRO file BT 258.202. [back]
3. Papers GEN 763/16, GEN 763/17, GEN 763/18 and minutes GEN 763/6th, on PRO file CAB 130.185 [back]
4. PRO file BT 258.201 [back]
5. The meetings are reported in papers GEN 763/22-25, of which GEN 763/24 is a summary on coupon trading for the Lord President. – PRO file CAB 130.185. [back]
6. PRO file CAB 124.1672 [back]
7. PRO file BT 258.201. The Board of Trade’s attitude towards the industry at official level is further illustrated in November 1963 when the Ministry of Health sought more detailed figures for tobacco sales than were then available. A C Young, Industries and Manufactures Department Division 3, passed the request to Imperial Tobacco but added: ‘Although the present letter can be taken as passing on to you a request made by the Ministry we are not attempting to persuade you in any way to comply with it . . . We would have no reluctance in telling the Ministry of Health that they could not have this new set of figures if that is what the industry decides. We are content for you to apply only the criterion of the industry’s interest . . .’ – PRO file BT 258.202. [back]
8. PRO file BT 258.202 [back]
9. PRO file MH 151.26 [back]
10. PRO files BT 258.202, BT 258.203 [back]
11. PRO file MH 154.182 [back]
12. PRO file MH 151.26 [back]
13. PRO file MH 154.182. The Medical Officer of Health in Buckinghamshire was George Townsend, ‘one of the best in Britain and a leader of his group’ (Sir George Godber, personal communication, 19 January 1998). [back]
14. PRO file BT 258.203 [back]
15. PRO files MH 154.182, CAB 130.185, CAB 134.2158 [back]
16.Sir George Godber recalls: ‘When the RCP report came out I bought 10 copies and sent them to my counterparts in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the four Scandinavian countries, Holland and France. Luther Terry (U.S. [surgeon-general]) was so impressed by the report that he set up his own committee which led to this report and continuing activity. Canada, NZ, Norway and Sweden did the like.’ (Personal communication, 19 January 1998) [back]
17. PRO file MH 151.29 [back]
18. PRO files BT 258.202, BT 258.203, CAB 130.185 [back]
19. PRO file CAB 134.2158 [back]
20. PRO file MH 154.182 [back]