|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Like the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), I ought to declare an interest. I am chairman of the all-party group on smoking and health, whose secretariat is the charity Action on Smoking and Health, with which I worked for many years.
It is undeniable that cigarette smoking is the single largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in Britain today. Reducing smoking would result in massive health gains, particularly for the most disadvantaged sectors of society. The prevalence of smoking in Britain has fallen substantially since the health risks of cigarette smoking were made known to the public, but appears to be stabilising at about one adult in four. To achieve further significant reductions in smoking, we must address the reasons why people begin smoking and continue to smoke knowing that it could kill them.
The Government are taking action in several areas to help to reduce the number of people addicted to smoking. The Bill will greatly add to that reduction and result in an improvement in the nation's health. Conservative Members have decided to table an amendment. I want to comment on that, first by reminding the House of what the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said in the Queen's Speech debate. I am sorry that he is not in his place. He said:
As soon as those countries introduced comprehensive bans, the picture began to change. Let us consider the statistics that marked that change. They were clearly stated in the Smee report and cannot be denied. In Norway, consumption dropped by 9 per cent; in Finland, by 6.7 per cent; in Canada, by 4 per cent; and in New Zealand, by 5.5 per cent. The average fall in cigarette consumption was 7 per cent. when advertising was banned.
It beggars belief that the hon. Member for Woodspring should again stand at the Dispatch Box, as he did last month, saying that he wants to see the evidence: the proof exists and has done so for many years. People need to have the will to seize on the evidence and decide what action to take.
Mrs. Spelman: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the first instance, it is the job of the Department to produce up-to-date information? Indeed, the Opposition's role is often hampered by a lack of access to departmental information, especially if it is not centrally held. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) made the point that any ban cannot be as effective as the Government might hope while the floodgates are open to smuggling.
Mr. Barron: It is hard to accept that criticism from the Conservatives. The Government have put millions of pounds into providing scanners at ports to check lorries and other vehicles for smuggled cigarettes. The hon. Lady should not shake her head. The previous Government never so much as thought about spending that money, let alone having the will to spend it. This Government have had to tackle smuggling--not just of tobacco and alcohol, but of other products--and are acting on it. Once again, the Conservatives are introducing a red herring. The hon. Lady refers to the need for information. The evidence on tobacco advertising, promotion and consumption has been available for a long time--although in 1993, the then Opposition were denied access to details on the Government's decisions in relation to the evidence in the report.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): First let me say that I have an interest, to which I shall refer later. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only reason why there is a market for smuggled tobacco is that there is a market for tobacco? Remove the market for tobacco and we remove the need to smuggle.
I honestly believe that it is stupid to argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a ban would reduce consumption. It is not upheld by the facts. The Government are cautious--perhaps even prudent--in estimating that the Bill will reduce consumption by about 2.5 per cent. In light of the evidence of the Smee report, I would expect the figure to be much higher. Even on the Government's estimate, though, 3,000 premature deaths a year--roughly eight a day--will be avoided. Although that is a small fraction of the total number of premature deaths that result from smoking, it equates to the death toll on our roads. It is ridiculous--and inconceivable--for any serious politician to oppose legislation that might prevent deaths on that scale, yet the amendment attempts to defeat the Bill on Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Worthing, West mentioned drink-driving. That issue was tackled not just by getting to know what young men thought about it, but by using advertising to highlight the ills of drink-driving. Advertising works--ask the tobacco companies. We must recognise what has happened before, and the way in which successive Governments have denied the truth about the link between tobacco advertising and consumption.
I accept the health statistics and--absurdly for a retailer--I should like tobacco sales to be reduced, but we have got to be effective. On smuggling, hon. Members only have to ask retailers in their constituencies about their sales to discover that a disproportionately large amount of hand-rolling cigarette paper is sold when compared with the amount of tobacco. We need to control smuggling more effectively because that will help to stop cut-price tobacco and cigarettes coming into the country. It is the price that is important to many people.
Mr. Barron: It is indeed, and when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he used his Budgets to introduce a real increase in tobacco taxes, which reduced consumption. The price mechanism works and I am pleased that the present Chancellor is continuing with the policy. A price increase does reduce consumption.
I agree that tobacco smuggling is serious. There is no doubt that it is much easier for young children to get their hands on smuggled tobacco than it is for them to buy tobacco from retail outlets. Smuggling does undermine retail outlets, but the answer is not to make concessions to the tobacco industry. The industry lobbies us every year for concessions but the fact is that tobacco taxation does reduce consumption. We need to be better at catching criminals who are flaunting and breaking the law and who have outlets for massive amounts of smuggled goods such as tobacco. We should all concentrate our minds on that, as, indeed, the Government are doing.
The amendment contains the word "quantifiable", which seems to be very important to Opposition Members. However, it seems that their argument has been equally important to the tobacco industry, which has consistently prevaricated in the same way. I remind the House of the Health Committee's decision on the European directive. At the time the Committee was chaired not by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield
Reference has been made to the correspondence that took place in 1993. I shall quote an attachment to a letter dated 5 November 1993--sent by the then Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and copied to members of his Cabinet--outlining the Department of Health's conclusions on the Smee report. Paragraph 7, headed "The review of the effect of tobacco advertising", said:
i. tobacco advertising does affect total tobacco consumption, not just brand share.
ii. other countries have introduced bans which have had a useful effect in their particular circumstances;
iii. from the evidence available, it is not possible to quantify the size of the effect of a ban in this country with any degree of certainty.
I also have a reply, dated 16 November 1993, to that letter which sent to the then Prime Minister by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who was then not only President of the Board of Trade but Deputy Prime Minister. It states:
In her minute Virginia takes the view that whilst there are arguments for and against a ban on tobacco advertising the evidence available does not justify that course of action. I find this a surprising conclusion given that the Department of Health's review suggested that further restrictions, including a ban, would reduce smoking, and thus save lives, even though the effect could not be quantified with any certainty. Further, the paper acknowledges the failure to make satisfactory progress in reducing smoking among 11-15 year olds towards the Health of the Nation target.
I recognise there is a delicate balance between those who favour a total ban on tobacco advertising and those who believe a tougher voluntary agreement with the industry is the best way forward to achieve the Government's aims in reducing smoking and therefore protecting public health.
Nevertheless, I am persuaded by the medical evidence, acknowledged in Virginia's paper, that a ban on tobacco advertising would not only further reduce smoking but would also contribute to improvements in people's health and avoid the damaging economic burdens which the consequences of ill-health place on business.
The view of the right hon. Member for Henley was shared by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who, in a letter to the then Prime Minister, said:
I fully support the views and arguments in Michael's letter. If the Government wants to be seen to be serious about reducing prevalence of smoking and improving people's health the right course of action would be to go for an outright ban on tobacco advertising. A ban on advertising could indirectly help the achievement of my Department's efforts to ban or restrict smoking in public places, by which we contribute to the overall policy on smoking.
In the bundle that I received there was also a letter dated 9 November from another Cabinet member, passing comment on freedom of expression--a phrase that appears in the Opposition's amendment today. Those words are not new; they have been around for a long time in the politics of tobacco. This letter was from the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, William Waldegrave, who wrote:
Tobacco products have enjoyed unparalleled freedom from the safety regulations that apply to virtually all other food or drug products available in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield spoke about nicotine replacement treatment. NRT, because it is a medicine, is highly regulated--one has to ask a pharmacist whether one can buy and use the products--while cigarettes are freely available almost everywhere. That is extraordinary given the damage that smoking does. Nowhere else in our society is there such a lack of controls.
Think of all the money that we have spent on BSE, not only by introducing special beef regimes on farms but by taking other necessary measures such as setting up the Food Standards Agency to give us more independence in food checks. Tobacco, on the other hand, is freely available, yet 300 of our fellow citizens die prematurely from it each day.
Voluntary agreements do not work, and it is time for legislation. I hope that the Government will strengthen the Bill as it goes through Parliament and consider introducing a tobacco regulation authority, as the all-party Health Committee unanimously recommended. We need to regulate tobacco as strictly as we regulate food and drug products that carry far lesser risks.
It is about time we had a comprehensive system for trying to prevent people from starting smoking and getting them to give it up. We need to do more than has been done in years gone by. I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced, alongside all the Government's other strategies, but I think that there is further to go. It dismays me to see Members of Parliament, who ought to know better, trying to block the improvement of the individual health of thousands of our citizens by means of their reasoned amendment.