Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Leigh: Smoking is bad for us--I do not do it. Of course, excess alcohol is bad for us too. No one would ever accuse smoking of making people drive cars into innocent children, beat up their wives or run amok in society. There is thus an issue of moral equivalence. What is the Secretary of State going to do about alcohol? Does he not realise that once Governments start to make moral judgments about what is bad for us or about what should or should not be advertised, they may be on a slippery slope? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take steps to discourage alcohol advertising?

Mr. Milburn: Alcohol in moderation is probably good for people--at least so I am advised; I do not think that smoking in moderation is good for people. Of course, there are difficult issues. The hon. Gentleman poses the matter as a moral choice. Yes, there are choices to be made, but it is a question of degree. The difference between alcohol and tobacco is that the consumption of tobacco products is guaranteed to do one thing to the hon. Gentleman and to others who decide to smoke--in the end, it will cause cancer, heart disease or other fatal

22 Jan 2001 : Column 658

illnesses. Therefore, we, as a Government, have a responsibility to act. Frankly, the previous Government refused to do so because of the moral choices that they sought to make, and I think that they made the wrong moral choice.

The Bill will ban overt advertising on billboards, posters and in the press. It will end, with limited exceptions, advertising in shops. Only advertising at the point of sale will be allowed. Direct marketing, too, will cease, stopping the tobacco industry bombarding people with promotional material, so undermining their attempts to give up. However, the Bill will not prevent members of the general public, journalists, writers and others from talking about tobacco products, representing them on stage or film, or commenting in the press about smoking and tobacco.

Tobacco sponsorship of sports and other events will, however, end under the Bill. Tobacco companies will no longer be able to exploit sports and public events to glamorise their products and to get their logos emblazoned across our television screens. According to the Cancer Research Campaign, the impact of such sports sponsorship is deadly. It says that boys are twice as likely to become regular smokers if they are motor racing fans and that

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) rose--

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) rose--

Mr. Milburn: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Iddon: Will the Bill ban brand stretching--by which I mean the use of brand names on items such as clothing and other goods for sale?

Mr. Milburn: Yes, it will do that, but there is an important caveat. Frankly, on so-called brand stretching--or brand sharing--we cannot have our cake and eat it. We cannot urge the tobacco companies to diversify away from tobacco production, while doing our damnedest to prevent them from diversifying into legitimate new markets. That is precisely why, although we have included such a power in the Bill, we shall consult on the detailed provisions to ensure that the phenomenon of so-called brand stretching is properly dealt with in the new legal provisions. In Committee, hon. Members--perhaps including the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)--will have an opportunity to discuss those issues in detail.

Mr. Forth: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State; he has been most generous in giving way. Some time ago, he said that price plays a large part, so does he believe that forcing the tobacco companies to stop their heavy advertising expenditure will allow them to reduce the price of the product, which, in turn, may increase its consumption?

Mr. Milburn: That will be a matter for the tobacco companies. [Interruption.] Amazingly enough, despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman would like to portray the Government as being deeply interventionist in industry, or as representing the nanny state--as he

22 Jan 2001 : Column 659

suggests from a sedentary position--it will be for the tobacco companies to determine such matters. However, our responsibility is to protect the public and, more importantly, children, from the adverse affects of tobacco advertising. That step should, and could, have been taken many years ago, given the evidence available to the previous Government.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): The Secretary of State mentions the influence on children. The internet will increasingly be the medium by which they will receive advertising, and so on. The Bill properly makes provision for that, but there are problems with service providers regulating the internet's content. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will consult the Internet Service Providers Association and others who want to enforce the ban, to ensure that a proper system exists so that a designated authority can notify them of any problem and give them a reasonable time in which to respond?

Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. In considering how tobacco companies advertise today, it is important to contemplate how they might seek to advertise tomorrow. Clearly, internet trading is increasing. Overwhelmingly, that is good; it brings positive benefits for consumers. However, we have included a power the better to protect consumers in future from precisely the advertising and promotional activities that we know have been so detrimental to public health in the past. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department, through its officials, has already been in contact with internet service providers in this country to talk through some of the implications, and I think that there will be further consultation on the issue. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Tobacco companies will of course be free to make donations to sporting or artistic events, provided that those donations do not promote tobacco. We have always said that we do not want the ban on tobacco advertising to harm sports. Our intention remains to implement the policy and the timetable on sponsorship agreed with our European partners in 1998. Subject to consultation, UK sports and events will have until July 2003 to find alternative sponsorship. Global sporting events will have until October 2006 to do the same, provided, first, that they do not sign new contracts with tobacco companies and, secondly, that they phase out the current sponsorship that they receive. It is my intention to publish draft regulations for consultation on sponsorship during the passage of the Bill.

We did not lightly make the commitment to end tobacco sponsorship or advertising. We estimate that tobacco companies spend about £100 million each year on advertising and promotion. The cosy fiction from the industry is that that has nothing to do with increasing consumption levels, still less with persuading children or young teenagers to start smoking. It is, the industry claims, only about maintaining brand loyalty. That story might be more convincing were it not for the facts: the fact that, for decades, those self-same companies even denied that there is a link between cancer and cigarettes--indeed, some even promoted the life-enhancing qualities of tobacco consumption. Even today, some companies continue to deny that passive smoking is dangerous, while others refuse to publish the additives that they put in their cigarettes.

22 Jan 2001 : Column 660

Despite the history of denial, some facts are emerging from the companies. Most important of all is the fact that tobacco advertising is not neutral in its impact: it is all about recruiting more new smokers. As the former chairman of the board of one advertising company who has worked for tobacco firms so clearly put it:

It is obvious enough to most people: every year, the tobacco industry in this country has to replace the 120,000 customers it kills through the consumption of its products. The target market are young smokers, including children. Why? Because fully 90 per cent. of smokers start before they are 20 years old.

The polite fiction behind the tobacco industry's advertising campaigns has been exposed by recent revelations and research: for example, the revelation that Imperial's marketing plan for Canada in the late 1980s involved targeting

I repeat, 12 to 17--and women "aged 12 to 34". Research has proved that the most commonly remembered brands even among children as young as 11 are those that are the most heavily advertised. Further research, published in the British Medical Journal in 1993, on Embassy Regal's "Reg" campaign concluded that it

There is little doubt among informed scientific and medical opinion that tobacco advertising and sponsorship is nothing less than a recruiting sergeant for children and young teenagers to start the tobacco habit, and it is precisely to safeguard these children and generations yet to come that we are introducing the ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

Some have argued that it is unfair to ban the advertising of a legal product. As I said at the outset, I happen to believe that people have a right to choose to smoke. It can be argued that consumers make a choice to do that when they start smoking. However, because nicotine is so enormously addictive--according to the Royal College of Physicians--it is much harder for smokers to exercise an equivalent freedom of choice to give up smoking.

Tobacco advertising and sponsorship are based on a big lie. They seek to get more people to smoke by conveying the idea that smoking is glamorous, when in fact it is dangerous, and that it enhances the quality of life, when in fact it serves to shorten people's lives.

Next Section

IndexHome Page