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4.31 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I think it is fair to say that the Tories had a parrot opening the debate today: there was nothing in the speech of the shadow Health Secretary, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) that could not happily have been said by a representative of the tobacco industry. That reflects the attitude of the Tory party.

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Labour party's tobacco policy could be bought by financial sponsorship must entitle him to the Nobel prize for bare-faced cheek. For 18 years, the Tory party secretly received funds from the tobacco industry and its friends, and complied with everything that the industry asked for. For 18 years, the Tories refused to change the law to ban tobacco advertising. For 10 years, they and their German allies did everything they possibly could to block the European directive to ban tobacco advertising. It was only when a Labour Government came into office that the possibility was reached of the blocking minority in the European Union being lifted. That was because we wanted a Europe-wide tobacco advertising ban, which would have been beneficial to everyone. Sadly, as a result of the activities of the tobacco industry and the Tory party's German allies, we lost the case in the European Court. I find it strange to think of the Tories all happily celebrating a European Court decision, because their Eurosceptics do not usually like decisions from that direction.

Dr. Fox: During the 18 years of the previous Conservative Government, tobacco consumption fell in the United Kingdom. Over the three years of the present Government, including the period during which the right hon. Gentleman was Health Secretary, tobacco consumption has risen. Which one is the failure?

Mr. Dobson: The major failure of the Tories was not to stop the rise in young people taking up tobacco smoking during the last few years of the Government of

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the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). Hardly anyone takes up smoking when they are an adult; nearly all smokers start when they are children. There was a large increase in the number of children smoking under the Government of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon. That fed in to the present problem, as the hon. Gentleman ought to understand, because those people are now adults. I agree that the number of children smoking is still increasing, and that is why we need to target our efforts on them.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not. I do not have a great deal of time.

The Tory party received money for 18 years from the tobacco industry and its friends, and agreed to do everything that the industry asked: to lay off it and not make life difficult for it. The Tories certainly did that. I suppose that we should not expect anything else from a party that recently accepted £5 million from someone who now wants to decide on its European policy and have a veto on who should become its party leader.

Everybody, even the Opposition, recognises the immense damage that tobacco smoking does. The tobacco industry is the only industry in the world that sells a product that will result in the death of half of those who follow the maker's instructions. We read in today's newspapers that some people at Railtrack and Balfour Beatty may be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter over the Hatfield train accident. I am sure that none of them thought that they were running a dangerous railway or knowingly did so. None of them would have expected passengers to be killed. However, the people who run the tobacco industry know that their customers will die, and we ought to introduce some moral equivalence into the debate.

The people who run the tobacco industry kill 120,000 of their customers every year. Consequently, they have to recruit another 120,000 to catch up. That gives the lie to the ridiculous suggestion that, in some way, tobacco advertising is all about competition between brands. The idea that the tobacco industry spends tens of millions of pounds on advertising, but not to increase sales, is absurd. No one could believe that--apart, apparently, from those who propagandise on behalf of the tobacco industry, which sadly includes Tory Front Benchers. We must give the lie to that idea.

The other lie that the tobacco industry constantly peddles is that it does not target its marketing effort on children. Of course it does, because children are virtually the only people who take up smoking. Hardly anybody takes up smoking as an adult, so the tobacco industry--knowingly and malignantly--has attempted to "catch 'em young." Unless it is restrained, it will do everything it can, in any way it can, to do that.

Mr. Milburn: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the efforts that he made as Secretary of State to deal with precisely those issues. We have repeatedly heard from Conservative Front Benchers about tobacco consumption levels, but the July 2000 edition of the statistical bulletin "National Statistics" shows that the overall prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults

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aged 16 and over was 28 per cent. in 1992 and 28 per cent. in 1996. By 1998, that figure had not increased, but had fallen to 27 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that, and on the fact that--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. With respect to the Secretary of State, that is a very long intervention.

Mr. Dobson: As one would expect from my right hon. Friend, his intervention was singularly well informed--and rather better informed than the statements of his opposite number, in the sense that it actually contained some facts. Over the years, I have learned not to accept a single proposition made by Conservative Members unless it has been seriously checked. Their propositions are usually wrong. I once foolishly accepted something that one of them said; it turned out to be terribly embarrassing.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: Is it not a fact that, when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State, about 3,000 people a week were giving up smoking for the last time--while alive, that is? Is that level of cessation not rather higher than his successor's stated target?

Mr. Dobson: I did not catch what my right hon. Friend said about targets. As far as I remember, when writing the tobacco White Paper, we stretched the targets out and made them tougher. Although we need to improve on past performance, improvements have been made and it would be foolish not to accept that.

However the marketing effort of those who run the tobacco industry is made--through advertising or by other means--it is targeted on young people. That is one reason why we have to introduce the ban as quickly as possible. It will not do everything, but it will help to reduce the incidence of people who take up smoking. It is vital to include sponsorship of sport in the ban because it is clear that it is targeted on sports that will attract the attention and approbation of young people, in particular young men.

I utterly deplore the behaviour of some parts of our fashion industry--a matter to which the hon. Member for Woodspring referred--which have encouraged models who do not smoke at other times to parade on the catwalk smoking. We need to ask whether the tobacco industry is financing some of the organisations involved.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned sponsorship of sport. If there is one thing that we have learned from the debate, it is that smoking among girls and young women is increasing. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the sponsorship of darts by Embassy cigarettes encourages young women to smoke?

Mr. Dobson: I am a bit on the chubby side myself, but I admit that the idea of fat guys hurling darts is not likely to provoke many young girls to take up smoking, and that there are other factors at work. Nevertheless, the tobacco industry has not given up on getting boys to smoke. It is still making a huge effort to ensure that more boys than girls smoke. We have to try to reduce smoking by everyone.

The advertising ban has to be part of a wider effort. I know that some people, including, perhaps, some of my colleagues, do not agree, but we tend to assume that

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teenagers have heard of all the horrors that can result from smoking because we ourselves have heard them. I doubt whether they have. I do not think that those aged 10 to 15, 16 or 17 have been exposed to a substantial campaign on the health dangers of smoking, as people of my age and others were. We need to put more effort into that. It is not true that young people know and completely discount the dangers, although I accept that they may discount them to an extent because people of that age do not think that they are ever going to die. We must publicise the dangers in a better and more effective way.

We also need to emphasise the danger to others. Many people are worried about the impact of smoking on their fellows. Emphasising the danger of secondary smoking would be useful. We must step up the substantial effort that is being made to get people off their addiction to tobacco by building on the special effort which was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell) when she was Minister for Public Health and which is being continued by Ministers currently at the Department of Health.

If we need to form a judgment about the nature of the tobacco industry, we should remember that, not so long ago, it was denying that tobacco was addictive. Indeed, some of the industry still denies that. It is not long since the industry was denying that smoking was bad for people's health. As I understand it, some people still deny that. Given those recent denials and what we know about the industry's commitment to keeping the tobacco industry going, all we are doing is catching up with the people who sell death to half their customers.

We should try to get ahead of the game. We need to be informed about what the tobacco industry plans for its next effort to build up the smoke force. We therefore need to consider carefully the possibility of requiring the tobacco industry to disclose to the Department of Health all its market and technical research.

We know from published material that 20 years ago the industry was preparing for the possibility that tobacco advertising might be banned. What is the industry planning now? The people of this country are entitled to know what it is planning, so that we can plan to counter it.

We certainly know that the industry plans to sell more and more cigarettes in the third world. In countries where people are already dying from AIDS, malaria and a host of other diseases and from poverty, the tobacco industry--which is virtually all located in the most prosperous parts of the world--wants to sell cigarettes to the most impoverished people so that even more of them will die prematurely. That is a deplorable position for the directors of the tobacco companies to take.

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