Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hunter: I shall be extremely brief. The principle in support of the amendment has already been established in the clause. Paragraphs (a) and (b) deal with purpose and effect. Ultimately, the Government say that paragraph (b) is a matter of interpretation, and in implementation one for lawyers in courts. They accept the principle of effect. The effect dealt with in the amendment is that of people being encouraged to move from a high-tar cigarette to a low-tar one. Although the full purpose of the Bill is not met, it is partially met, in that that is a health-improving factor. There is, therefore, a logical argument in support of the amendment. The principle behind it is embodied in the Bill in the distinction between purpose and effect. The amendment would move people from a high-tar to a low-tar intake.

Yvette Cooper: I have considerable sympathy with the intention behind the amendment. Clearly we need to ensure that people have access to the support and help that they need if they want to give up smoking. We know that 70 per cent. of smokers say that they want to give up. That is why we have been so clear in promoting the availability of nicotine replacement therapy and Zyban on the national health service, and asked the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to advise us on it. The institute pronounced it an extremely cost-effective way of improving health. The intention is to promote ways of helping people give up smoking.

6.30 pm

The reason that I reject the amendment is as follows. First, the Bill does not prevent the advertising or promotion of nicotine replacement therapy, Zyban or any similar product that is available on the market to help people give up smoking. That is because although nicotine is a constituent of tobacco, tobacco is not a constituent of nicotine. Tobacco is not an ingredient in nicotine replacement therapy—Zyban, patches, gums, Nicorette, and so forth—so there is no danger that the Bill would cover the sorts of nicotine replacement therapy that we all want to be widely accessible and available for people throughout the country.

However, the amendment, as it is drafted, would create a loophole along the lines that was described by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West and for Basingstoke. The issue of low tar offers us a good example. Ever since the harmful effects of cigarettes became clear in the 1950s, tobacco manufacturers pursued a low- tar strategy. Cigarettes were engineered to produce reduced tar and nicotine yield on laboratory measurement. Since the 1970s, low-tar brands have been promoted with the implication that they are less harmful to health than high-tar brands, and additives were introduced to improve the palatability of low-tar cigarettes.

We would not want to accede to the advertising of low-tar cigarettes but, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke pointed out, the amendment would make that possible. It would be a serious problem if the advertising ban were suddenly opened up to permit the advertising of low-tar cigarettes: there is now a clear scientific consensus that the low-tar strategy has not

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produced the expected benefits to individuals and to public health. The Royal College of Physicians said in its report of 2000 on nicotine addiction in Britain that smokers compensate in their smoking behaviour to maintain a constant nicotine and tar level, and the United States of America's National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute have made similar points. Smokers unconsciously alter their inhalation patterns and block ventilation holes with fingers or lips, so the machine measurements do not represent what a human being actually takes in. Indeed, the promotion of low-tar brands may have lulled some smokers into a false sense of security, so that they continue to smoke, rather than to quit altogether.

The low-tar example indicates why we would not want an exemption for low- tar cigarettes on the basis of claims that they are safer, or that they are a way of reducing the use of tobacco products. The same sorts of arguments that were used in favour of low-tar cigarettes might be applied to other products coming on to the market; they could be promoted by the tobacco industry as so-called safer products. With regard to them, we may find ourselves in the same situation as we were with low-tar cigarettes, 10 or 20 years down the line—and we now deeply regret the decision that was taken to permit their advertising.

That is why I am extremely cautious about the approach taken in the amendment, although I have sympathy with the intentions that lie behind it. I assure the Committee that nicotine replacement therapy will not be included, and I urge Committee members to reject the amendment because of the potential to replicate the low-tar problem, or a future example of that.

Mr. Wilshire: I am not quite sure why I intend to do this, but I want to try to help the Government out of a problem that they have dug themselves into.

If I understood the Minister correctly, when she responded to the points that I and others made, her argument was that nicotine was not tobacco—I think that those were the words that she used. That is fascinating. With regard to the arguments that we were having about nicotine replacement—about any product that was partly from tobacco that might be useful—everything that I said was based on the presumption that the nicotine, coming from tobacco, would make that product something that comes from tobacco. However, the Minister has said that nicotine is not tobacco.

I wish to return to a previous debate, although I promise not to open it up again. Suffice to say that the Minister was concerned that the tobacco industry would use every means at its disposal to further its legitimate business, and she was worried about us creating loopholes. I think that the Minister has now created the most enormous loophole, by saying that nicotine is not tobacco. What if someone worked out how to extract the nicotine from tobacco and to make a product for recreational use? Remember that the amendment is intended purely to help people give up smoking. The words of the amendment will stand in the record and can perhaps be used in future. A

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product could be put on the market for recreational use, not for medical use or to help people. Such a product could contain nicotine, which, if I understand its effects, is among the most harmful parts of tobacco.

Are we to allow the Bill to flag up an opportunity to find a way round the provisions by creating an entirely new product that can be used recreationally? I am sure that that is not what the Minister intends, but I fear that that is what she said. I hope that we can clarify that. If she takes my worry seriously, she may wish to try to put that matter right on Report.

I shall raise a couple of other issues, so that I do not have to rise again unless the Minister provokes me. The first I mention in order to help the Minister. I have been reading the list of things that people cannot do. ''Tobacco products'' are those intended to be

    ''smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed.''

I wondered why the word ''swallowed'' was not there, too. It is possible to consider me pedantic or frivolous, but I worry about the loopholes. In fact, I was partly persuaded by what the Minister said about creating them. The absence of the word ''swallowed'' is surely an invitation to the tobacco industry to say, ''We are not producing this product to be sniffed, sucked or chewed. We are putting this product on the market to be swallowed.'' If the industry uses that argument, it could claim that people who sucked or chewed the product before swallowing it just happened to do so.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): It seems obvious that in the extremely unlikely eventuality of tobacco companies urging people to swallow their product, a simple one-line amendment would be sufficient to overcome the problem.

Mr. Wilshire: It would be. I regret that we do not have more than five sittings, but I will be amazed to get to the end of the fifth without hearing the argument, used in another place and in previous debates, that we want to get the Bill right, as Government time for legislating is so tight that they wish to avoid the one-line amendment.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I am trying to save the Government from themselves. I shall be told off for trying to be helpful to the Government before the Committee is over. I suspect that it would be more sensible to try to get the provision right now, although I have many reservations about trying to be helpful when it is my job to oppose this dreadful Government on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition. By not putting the word ''swallow'' into the Bill, we are offering the tobacco industry another opportunity to do what the Minister fears that they will do.

I shall quickly raise the question of snuff, so that we do not have to have a stand part debate. Given what the Government are seeking to do under the Bill, I can understand all the things to which they object, but I wonder whether the Minister will clarify why ''sniffed'' has to be included. If my arguments proved to be justified, a one-line amendment to take out the word could be deployed. We have discussed alternatives to

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smoking, including some of the therapy alternatives. If one takes snuff, and I hasten to add that I do not, and have no wish to do so, one does not set fire to it. It would be quite awkward to put it up one's nose and set fire to it. Therefore, the harmful effects of setting fire to something do not apply. That is a plus in itself, as it is the combustion of tobacco, among other things, that does a huge amount of harm.

I am aware of the research into nasal cancer and it could be argued that if someone who sniffs snuff—I shall be amazed if I do not make a mistake on that before the debate is over—is going to claim that that is a cause of nasal cancer, we need to have the medical research and statistics by which that claim is justified. If the use of snuff—something that one does not set fire to—is a less damaging way of using the product, it might commend itself to the Government to allow that to happen. Whatever the Minister might think about the wicked tobacco industry, as she sees it, I doubt that the Government would get very far trying to persuade us all to go round sniffing.

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