Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Richard Ottaway: A report in The Times on 22 January 1993 said that Smee had

How does that fit with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying?

Mr. Barron: The estimate that the Government have considered is an average of the reduction in consumption in countries that took the decision to ban tobacco advertising for public health reasons, rather than to protect home markets. The evidence is irrefutable.

We have to ask why Conservative Members continue to oppose the legislation. They give great credence to voluntary codes and ask us to rely on voluntary agreements to protect teenagers and other vulnerable groups from the influence of tobacco advertising. I have long believed that the voluntary arrangements have failed to deliver the gains in public health that we have a right to expect.

A good example of that came in the evidence taken by the Health Committee before it published its report "The Health Risks of Smoking" in 2000. In the second volume, at page 318, we can see an attempt to show that advertising supposedly designed to encourage 18 to 24-year-olds to switch brands had no effect on young people's smoking habits. Advertising agencies were giving evidence on how they pitched their advertisements at different age groups, claiming that they affected only adults, not children.

The voluntary arrangements say that no advertising will be targeted at people below the age of 18. We have heard about billboards not being near schools, but the whole point of the voluntary codes is that advertising should be pitched only at adults.

Referring to evidence submitted by a company called TBWA GCT Simons Palmer Ltd., Audrey Wise—hon. Members will recall how assiduous she was in questioning witnesses, just as she was assiduous in questioning Ministers in the House—asked the company chairman, Mr. Paul Bainsfair, to explain how he could be sure that an advertisement that would appeal to an 18-year-old would not have the same appeal for a 14 or 15-year-old.

Audrey Wise asked:

29 Apr 2002 : Column 713

Mr. Bainsfair replied that advertisers had to stick within the bounds of the voluntary code,

She pressed him on how a distinction is made under the voluntary code between someone under 18, or under 15, and an 18 to 24-year-old. He said:

She pursued this line of questioning for several minutes until he finally admitted:

There we have it. Mr. Bainsfair begins by stating categorically that the voluntary code prevents advertisers from doing anything to target children, goes on to say that advertising is unlikely to appeal to a 15-year-old, insists that the code prevents advertisers from targeting children, and finally admits that it is common sense that there is bound to be an overlap, thus turning his own argument on its head.

Conservative Members have referred to the voluntary code. What say they about a man who makes a living advertising the products of tobacco companies and says that he works within the guidelines of the voluntary code? The code has failed our young people for years. That is the truth. Until Conservative Members recognise it, they will never be able to understand the tobacco industry, which was well described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) as targeting our young people.

People start smoking between the ages of 11 and 15; 20-year-olds never start smoking—it is not an adult choice, and never has been. I started smoking at the age of 10. That was not an adult choice. People are cynically aware that it is not an adult choice, and they exploit the voluntary codes to overcome the restrictions. It is about time the Opposition got their act together and decided to tell some of the truth about why they are again using weasel words in their amendment.

The Opposition say that this all boils down to the issues of teenagers and other vulnerable groups, and illegal imports. It is true to say that tobacco smuggling is a major problem, but it is not true to say that the Government are not doing anything about it: far from it. At least one tobacco company is still under investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry, and some of us are not convinced that when tobacco produced in this country is sent abroad and then—sometimes within seven days—arrives back in this country illegally, thereby avoiding taxes, the industry does not know about it.

I was tempted by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said about issuing export licences, as we do for weapons made by the defence industry. Tobacco kills a lot more people than weapons do, and the manufacturers should not be allowed to get away with that.

When my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury outlined the pre-Budget report on 27 November last year, he gave the first results from the

29 Apr 2002 : Column 714

"tackling tobacco smuggling" strategy set up by the Government about two years ago, which was designed to stop the growth in tobacco smuggling and reverse it by 2003. The results were that Customs and Excise had achieved their key 2000–01 target of holding the share of the UK market taken by smuggled cigarettes to 21 per cent. Also in 2000–01, they seized 2.8 billion cigarettes destined for the illicit UK market—almost 1 billion more than were seized in 1999–2000. They have also cut cross-channel smuggling by 76 per cent., massively exceeding their target of a 10 per cent. reduction.

In just six months, the new network of X-ray scanners has detected about 80 million cigarettes and 4.5 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco. Customs investigators have broken up 43 major organised crime rings involving the large-scale smuggling and supply of cigarettes. Also in 2000–01, Customs and Excise seized more than 10,200 cars, vans and lorries used by smugglers—almost double the number seized in 1999–2000.

Let me put that in context: of the 14 million people who entered the UK through the channel ports in 2000, 99.8 per cent. passed through without a problem. That is what the Government are doing about smuggling. We know that smuggled tobacco finds its way to young people, and that it avoids taxation, but the Government are taking action; they are spending millions of pounds at ports now.

As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I can tell the House that a lot more is done about tobacco smuggling and other serious crimes in our ports, and throughout our country, than has ever been done before—and more than was even dreamed of by the Conservative party when it was in government. We will take no lessons from the Conservatives on this subject.

The Opposition amendment says that there should be

The Conservatives had 18 years in office and never offered one sunset clause to us when we were in opposition, yet they want to put a clause into the Bill, which they will vote against at 10 o'clock tonight, so that if, in two or three years' time, it is not working, we can do something about it. It is extraordinary that they should make that suggestion. We could argue that case on every piece of legislation that comes before the House, but we never have done—

Tim Loughton: What about terrorism?

Mr. Barron: I know that we do that with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, because of the issues involved, and that is right and proper—but it is nonsense to say that any other legislation should have a sunset clause.

Tim Loughton: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that sunset clauses have now become an issue. He says that tobacco kills more people than terrorism, so by his own logic, why will he not accept a sunset clause for this Bill in case, as we contend, the means that it uses are not right?

Mr. Barron: If the means are not right we will be able to sort that out pretty quickly, because as the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot will be done by regulation;

29 Apr 2002 : Column 715

the detail is not on the face of the Bill. That often happened under the Conservative Government, and it means that when people try to avoid the restrictions on promoting their products, we will be able to take swift action rather than having to come back to the Chamber and put up with amendments such as the one that the Conservatives have tabled to the Bill, which is spurious to say the least, and does not deal with the consequences of tobacco consumption.

Tobacco products have enjoyed an unprecedented degree of freedom from the safety regulations that apply to virtually all the food and drug products available in Britain today. I have never heard Conservative Members arguing that prescription drugs should be available everywhere so that people can use their freedom of choice to go out and buy them. We have always restricted the availability of things that are bad for public health. Why do the Conservatives not go along with this sensible suggestion, which will reduce cigarette consumption, just as the taxation imposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced it?

I do not know the answer. Perhaps the Conservatives' historical link with the tobacco industry is still there. I had a private Member's Bill talked out when the Conservative party and the tobacco companies linked up to ensure that public health measures did not make progress in the Chamber. If Opposition Members could answer my questions about how one can advertise something to an 18-year-old without affecting 15-year-olds, they might even get me thinking as they do—but as things are, they have to defend their position.

Next Section

IndexHome Page