Previous SectionIndexHome Page

21 Oct 2002 : Column 81—continued

7.19 pm

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): I must start by declaring an interest as an occasional smoker.

Mr. Pound: Montecristos, I take it.

James Purnell: Marlboro Lights, actually. That is the last piece of free advertising that I shall give any cigarette company.

I started smoking when I was about 12. I clearly remember the influence that advertising had on my decision to start smoking as a teenager, which is not quite so long ago as it is for my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins). As the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) said, children leave primary school absolutely determined not to smoke, but they then get the idea that it is glamorous. That idea is partly imparted by their peers, but largely through advertising, Hollywood films and television. The current restrictions on advertising somehow make the situation worse because the tobacco industry does not advertise the product but instead something like a purple stripe or a strange part of middle America. That increases the mystique of smoking.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) suggested greater reliance on a voluntary code, but that idea is doomed to failure. Previous examples of voluntary codes trying to reduce the amount of advertising to children and teenagers show that, as long as the industry regulates itself, it will find ways of being able to adopt a position that it can just about defend while continuing to advertise as it

21 Oct 2002 : Column 82

seeks the 120,000 new customers that it needs each year to replace those whom it kills. The point was made in the debates in the Lords and in this House that the industry would not spend so much on advertising if it did not think that it had any effect. That point is unanswerable. I first tried to give up smoking after I had been to hospital and saw someone being wheeled out to the smoking room and painfully putting a cigarette not to their mouth, but to a hole that had been put in their throat. That experience of the consequences of cigarette smoking shocked me out of my complacency at that time.

As all the previous speakers have said, the Bill cannot stand alone. It must be accompanied by smoking cessation programmes and education in schools. However, to suggest that we should do other things does not invalidate the arguments for the Bill, which will be a building block in trying to reduce the amount of smoking, in particular, by young people.

However, there are good liberal arguments against such a measure. For example, Lord Naseby has referred to the potential conflict with article 10 of the European convention on human rights, and his argument deserves to be heard. It is important to show the problems that the Bill may cause, and I have some sympathy with those arguments. I would not want freedom of expression to be curtailed except when there is a strong case for doing so. In this case, I think that the case has been made. It is worth repeating that tobacco kills one in two of the people who take it up and undermines people's willpower and ability to make a rational decision. As such, Mill's hope that free speech and a discussion of the arguments would result in the truth coming out and the desired effect on behaviour seems slightly idealistic. The fact that the product undermines people's willpower and ability to make choices for themselves and kills many more than the drugs that are currently banned justifies the drastic moves to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

The Government must, however, take account of the effects on sponsorship companies and on the sponsorship deals for sport. I know that the Government have done much to wean sport off such deals, but it is worth bearing in mind those who work in the tobacco industry. Through no fault of their own, they have become involved in an industry on which restrictions will be placed. In that context, I wish to mention the Gallagher factory in Hyde in my constituency. It closed at the beginning of the Government's term of office, because the company received an incentive to move it to Northern Ireland. The Gallagher building, which dominates Hyde, is empty and the hundreds of people who worked there lost their jobs. Many of my constituents have not found other work since the company moved to another part of the country.

I therefore urge the Government to consider what can be done to provide much greater transitional aid to people who are affected by such industrial change. People who had worked for a lifetime in the tobacco industry lost their employment and did not receive the help that they might have expected. I know that the Department for Work and Pensions now puts in place much more quickly effective transitional work programmes when mass redundancies occur, but I hope that we learn the lessons of my constituents' painful experience.

21 Oct 2002 : Column 83

The clinching argument to justify the Bill is that about health inequality. If one compares prosperous neighbourhoods with those such as mine, it is clear that smoking plays a central role in the greater rate of early death in working-class families. However, it is all too often easy to forget that, behind those figures, lies a personal tragedy for each of those families. People do not only lose a relative but may lose the household's whole income. We cannot deal with health inequality just by building more hospitals and by investing in primary care. We must deal with the causes, and a central cause is the higher rate of smoking among people from low-income households.

David Taylor : I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that billboard advertising, in particular, is focused in areas of low incomes and high unemployment? That is a particularly cynical move by the tobacco companies to reinforce tobacco consumption in those sections of the population who are most damaged by it.

James Purnell: That is an extremely good point. Anyone who works in such areas notices that. It is not the only cynical action that the tobacco industry has taken. For example, the marketing to young people and the cocktail of glamour, Hollywood or sport to encourage people to smoke by association are all in its catalogue of cynicism. Furthermore, the industry denied the link between smoking and cancer. For as long as possible, tobacco companies tried to pretend that something that they must have known was the case was not actually the case. That, combined with what continues to happen despite the good words that the industry uses about voluntary codes and not advertising to children, are testament to what it is up to.

I am not suggesting that people should be prevented from smoking. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham suggested that the Government did not have the courage of their convictions in not banning smoking. Such action would be deeply illiberal. Smoking is legal and to ban it entirely would not be justified. It is not a question of not having the courage of one's convictions but of doing what is appropriate to deal with a particular evil. Banning would be excessive, but the consequences of smoking on young people, in particular, are sufficient to justify the Bill's drastic provisions.

I hope that we will not use the Bill as an excuse not to concentrate on other measures to promote smoking cessation. For example, I congratulate the Department of Health on its Xdon't dare" campaign that has run over the past couple of years and particularly at Christmas to encourage people to give up smoking. The use of a broken cigarette is an extremely good way of reminding people of the slightly pathetic side of smoking.

My problem with smoking is that I find it easy to give up. Whenever I give up, I decide to start again because I will find it easy to give up again. That happens quite often, and one finds that one has not really given up. We should put the emphasis on getting the Government to advertise as effectively as possible and to continue their campaign to discourage smoking; we should not allow

21 Oct 2002 : Column 84

tobacco companies to advertise to young people in their attempt to keep them addicted to smoking. That would be a major step in reducing health inequality, and would save hundreds and perhaps thousands of families from the tragedy of losing someone to lung or tongue cancer. Such provisions would be widely welcomed in the community.

7.29 pm

Mr. Flook : First, I declare an interest, which can be found in the Register of Members' Interests. I also declare an interest as a heavy ex-smoker who smoked well over 30 a day for about 10 years. I did not need hypnosis to give up. Unlike the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), however, I found it so easy to give up 30 a day that I would not dare take it up again.

As a neighbour of mine for many years, the strictures on smoking by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) were such that I had to have a puff before I visited him. Every time I wanted another cigarette I had to go home, three doors away. I also recall that on an armed forces parliamentary scheme trip, the bus was held up while the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) had yet another puff and continued his way with the wicked weed.

I am concerned that attempts on both sides of the House to scrutinise the Bill, which has been five years in the making, seem to come down to the fact that the Government cannot make their mind up. Instead, they say, XDon't worry. We'll ask the courts." Although the measure was a commitment in the 1997 Labour party manifesto, the Government decided that rather than introduce domestic legislation immediately, they would support and promote a European directive. That was mistake number one. The contentious legal basis of the directive meant that the European Court of Justice annulled it in October 2000. The Government were forced to introduce a Bill to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, but it ran out of time. It is a great pity that they should try to make political capital and blame the Conservative party for that. The Bill needed amending and the important amendments were not just in our name, but in those of Labour Members and Cross-Benchers in another place.

We have gone over the arguments time and time again. It is important that we consider the Bill in that light. The Liberal Democrats make great play that the Bill is their Bill. I am sorry to say, therefore, that this Bill is their Bill improperly scrutinised. It is distressing that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) contradicted herself. She said in an intervention that there was no need to add to Lord Clement-Jones's Bill in the other place. However, in her speech she said that the Conservative amendments were valid. She cannot have it both ways.

I want to address the failure of parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have tried to stifle the process of scrutiny by resisting every amendment that we tabled. Indeed, the Minister said that she had some sympathy for new clause 2, but she would still not accept it. Her predecessor, now the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), refused to

21 Oct 2002 : Column 85

accept amendments. The only way out of the problem is for the Government to ask the courts. However, the consultation paper on the draft regulations, which they intend to make as soon as the Bill is passed, baldly states that a picture of a packet of tobacco is an advertisement. It also says that an indication of a special price or offer is an advertisement, according to the Bill. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that is for the courts to decide what is and what is not an advertisement and then provide for us their determination of what is or what is not an advertisement. In that respect the Bill lacks a high degree of certainty.

Twice I have raised the issue of whether promotion can be matched with dissing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised. I have yet to receive a proper answer.

Next Section

IndexHome Page