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4.8 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: "That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill because there is insufficient evidence that its provisions would lead to a quantifiable reduction in tobacco consumption and yet they entail a serious restriction of freedom of expression; it contains no provisions to combat the increase in the prevalence of smoking amongst vulnerable population groups which is due to the growth in importation and sale of illegal tobacco products; nor does it address the difficulties of those sports which stand to lose financial support as a result of its provisions." This debate is not about whether smoking is a bad thing. It is a bad thing, as the statistics recited by the Secretary of State make clear. More than 30,000 lung cancer deaths alone are attributable to smoking, which accounts for two thirds of the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest people in the United Kingdom. Half of all teenagers who smoke will die from tobacco-related diseases. I do not need the statistics, because I worked as a junior doctor in a ward that specialised in respiratory diseases. I have watched people coughing up their blood supply because of their lung tumours and seen relatives suffer along with their loved ones. Closer to home, my grandfather died of lung cancer.

I have no love for the tobacco companies, but that is not the point of this debate. While our policy aim must be to secure decreased consumption and prevalence of tobacco in a sustainable way, the debate is about whether the Bill is acceptable in itself and as part of the wider policy. We must, therefore, consider past and current trends in smoking. We must also consider whether a ban is acceptable in itself, whether a ban such as that proposed would work and what other measures are needed.

The Secretary of State refused point blank to accept the facts pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). In some of his sillier comments about the previous Government's policy, he betrayed his lack of grasp of some of the issues. Until 1997, under the previous Government, the United Kingdom was doing well in reducing smoking through a combination of price mechanism, education and voluntary controls on advertising.

Let me remind the Secretary of State of some of the changes that the Conservative Government introduced to advertising in 1994. Advertising expenditure on cigarette

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brand posters was limited to 30 per cent. of that spent in 1980. Poster advertising was not permitted close to, or visible from, schools and educational establishments for young people under the age of 18. Advertisements were not allowed to appear in publications that were directed wholly or mainly at young people who were under 18. Advertising cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco was prohibited in cinemas, on videocassettes for sale or hire, and in computer games, other computer equipment or software. Those were important steps forward, and I am sorry that the Secretary of State chose to deprecate them. There was a consensus in the country and among all parties that that was the correct way forward.

We were one of the most successful countries in reducing smoking prevalence. Between 1971 and 1996, tobacco consumption was down by more than 37 per cent., and prevalence by more than 40 per cent. Yet between 1994 and 1998, cigarette advertising was in steep decline and the amount spent on main media advertising fell by 46 per cent. At the very least, there is no direct link between advertising and smoking.

Since 1997, total United Kingdom tobacco consumption has increased. Since the Government have been in office, more people are smoking because an increasing number of people have access to cheap, smuggled cigarettes. Since 1996, the black market has flourished as annual tax increases of 3 and 5 per cent. above inflation mean that many consumers who refuse to pay £4.22 for a packet of 20 cigarettes have looked elsewhere. It is now estimated that more than 30 per cent. of the manufactured cigarettes and 80 per cent. of the hand-rolling tobacco smoked in this country avoid UK taxes. It is a classic case of over-taxation having the opposite effect on behaviour to that intended. Falling tax revenue is also likely to occur because we are in the declining part of the tax yield curve.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Why do tobacco companies advertise?

Dr. Fox: Clearly, they advertise because there is a large market and each company wants to increase its share of it. Every 1 per cent. increase in market share is worth £120 million. As the Secretary of State said, it is a legal market, and it is entirely understandable that the companies want to increase their market share.

By using a sensible mix of taxation policy, voluntary restriction on advertising and education, we were able to reduce smoking prevalence over a long period. Under this Government, it has increased. Despite the Secretary of State's words, more people are smoking, using different forms of tobacco and therefore putting their health at risk under this Government than were doing so under the previous Government.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Does he seriously believe that cigarette companies spend vast amounts of money on advertising purely to persuade existing smokers--an ever-diminishing breed--to give up or change their brand and that they have no interest in persuading young people and non-smokers to join the smoking club?

Dr. Fox: It is clear that cigarette companies do not want people to stop smoking; they want people to continue smoking and to use their products. I deeply

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regret that; I do not believe that smoking should be encouraged. However, I emphasise to my hon. Friend that, under the Government whom he supported, we did extremely well. Smoking consumption was declining through a judicious mix of the three policy elements that I described. However, it is now increasing under a Government who talk the talk, but do not introduce the policies to produce the effect that they claim they wish to achieve. It is not sloganising that makes the difference, but a mixture of Government policy that achieves the desired result.

Let me consider a point that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West mentioned: banning advertising of a legal product. Doubtless there is a strong libertarian argument that contends that when the Government make a product available without restriction to adults, commercial freedom should be respected and individuals should be able to choose between products. According to that argument, it would follow that advertising was a legitimate method of providing choice between those products.

We already accept the need for restrictions on advertising. Indeed, the last Conservative Government introduced such restrictions. We need to ask in what circumstances we would move from voluntary restrictions to a ban in law, and I know that a genuine debate is taking place about that. Some people believe that there are no circumstances in which a ban could be contemplated. I have disagreed and still disagree with that absolutist view, as I made clear in my response to the Queen's Speech.

Public health considerations must be taken into account, but I do not think it acceptable to ban the advertising of a legal product unless it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that such a ban will work, and unless no alternatives are available to achieve the same end. The ban must also be part of a comprehensive and workable strategy, and not simply a piece of tokenism.

Sir Peter Emery: I am sorry to pose what I fear is a difficult question. Is my hon. Friend saying that, if the Bill is passed, we shall repeal it and return to voluntary restrictions?

Dr. Fox: I have always felt that, just as I had to practise evidence-based medicine, we ought to practise evidence- based policy. We shall find out whether an advertising ban is effective in reducing consumption, because the Bill will become law--we must be realistic enough to recognise that--and we shall see whether it works. We may be proved wrong: we may see a dramatic reduction in consumption. I doubt it.

All I can tell my right hon. Friend is that we shall need to look at the evidence as we find it at the time. I would not, in general, want to depart from evidence. If it is said that consumption has been reduced dramatically as a result of a ban, it is surely common sense to unpick the argument.

Mr. Bercow: I am listening intently. Given that approximately 79 per cent. of the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes goes directly to Treasury coffers, will my hon. Friend--before moving to the next stage of his argument--take us through, as it were, what he presumably sees as the green light that this policy gives smugglers?

Dr. Fox: That will be the next stage of my argument. If my hon. Friend is patient, we shall get there.

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In considering whether a ban would work, we should consider two groups in particular.

Mr. Barron: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Fox: I shall give way in a moment. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long track record on this issue.

We need to consider the influence of advertising on smoking among children--which my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) mentioned--and also the increased number of women who now smoke. Those are both adverse trends. Research conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in 1998 failed to find any significant influence on the uptake of smoking by children. The characteristics most likely to be found in children who subsequently began to smoke were gender--girls smoked more than boys, and we know now that that is a continuing trend; having brothers and sisters who smoked; having parents who smoked; living with a single parent; not intending to stay in full-time education after six years; and having relatively fewer negative views about smoking.

The question of why girls are increasing their level of smoking is perplexing. There is evidence to suggest that a wrongly assumed effect on weight is one factor. I suggest that the image of waif-like supermodels having a smoke is far more likely to affect consumption in that key and vulnerable group than any brand advertising.

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