Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Hamlet cigar campaign? It has been formidable in the past few years in trying to attract young adult smokers with certain advertising. I reject the notion that the cigar industry is benign and

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that it is simply wants to maintain its existing market. I believe that it is trying to attract new customers.

Tim Loughton: I take issue with the hon. Gentleman, although he made a perfectly legitimate point. I am not aware of cigar smoking being targeted at young people. We have received letters from retailers who say that their businesses are not aimed at that market and I have some sympathy with them.

We have received a letter from a specialist retailer involved with the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists. It says that it sells cigars, snuff, and pipe tobacco through specialist tobacconists by mail order. It recognises that the Bill is targeted substantially at the selling of cigarettes, especially to young people. However, other specialist tobacconists who sell mainly fine cigars and other non-cigarette products are in a special situation. They do not market to, or attract, young people, but appeal to mature, mostly male, smokers who wish to choose from a wide range of premium products. As specialists who gain more than half their sales from cigars, snuff and pipe tobacco, they are pleased that the Bill will allow them to advertise on the inside and outside of their premises. They fully accept that they will not be allowed to advertise cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco.

The specialists say that the logic of the dispensation has not been extended to mail order and other forms of direct selling of non-cigarette products. Like almost every other specialist tobacconist, such companies also sell fine cigars by mail order and electronically via websites. In many cases—certainly among those who have written to me—that forms a significant proportion of their total trading. Sometimes, direct marketing creates the majority of their total sales.

Specialist tobacconists trade by mail order and via their websites because few specialist tobacconists remain in the United Kingdom. I believe that the figure quoted to me was 350. Many customers cannot visit those tobacconists, because it would be inconvenient in terms of distance or location. Despite the Government's assurance that it is not the Bill's intention to threaten such businesses, many retailers believe that it will. If they cannot use their mailing lists to inform customers of price changes without obtaining individual permission every time, the mail order and website operations will not be cost effective. There will be a knock-on effect, in that the shop side of the business will not be sustainable without the mail order side of the business. Those shops would then have to close. The only beneficiaries will be their overseas competitors.

If those shops go out of business, the people they supply to—specialist cigar smokers—will not all of a sudden say, ''Oh, well, in that case we shall give up smoking.'' They will seek other outlets, and in many cases those outlets will be overseas competitors. We will be hitting small retailers that have legitimate business to do. That has nothing to do with cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco.

Mr. Ruffley: Does my hon. Friend think that the Department of Health has consulted the Under-Secretary responsible for small businesses and the Department of Trade and Industry on that issue? It is

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clear from my hon. Friend's argument that the provision could be a real blow to the small business sector, which I thought Her Majesty's Government were keen to promote.

Tim Loughton: Yet another inconsistency, as my hon. Friend mentions. I doubt very much whether the Department of Health has taken any regard of the wishes of colleagues and other Departments, as I fear that the Government, despite all their joined-up rhetoric, do not practise what they preach. Another reason why I think so is that the Minister has responded to the Imported Tobacco Products Advisory Council, which sent me a copy of the letter that she sent it.

David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Government are inconsistent in wanting both economic development, with a strong, stable economy, and a ban on tobacco advertising. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in the fox hunting debate which, mutatis mutandis, applies to our discussion. There is no inconsistency in wanting jobs but not at any price—not at the cost of health, or animal welfare in that case.

The Chairman: Before I call the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I shall give the Committee some guidance on what I propose to do as regards time. I know what the two Front-Benchers are hoping to achieve. I propose that we run on. If we have not concluded our proceedings by 6 o'clock, we will adjourn, but hopefully we will have concluded by then. The matter is not completely in my hands, because I do not know if or when there will be Divisions on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. That is eminently sensible from our point of view. We thank you for that.

The Chairman: I thought that it might be helpful for hon. Members to know what I am considering.

Tim Loughton: The intervention of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire had little relevance to the debate, and I am sure that you would have ruled it out of order if we had pursued the subject, Mr. Pike. [Interruption.] It is totally irrelevant because the Government are not seeking to ban specialist tobacco shops, whereas they are seeking to ban fox hunting outright. There is no direct corollary between the two. The Government are perfectly happy for specialist tobacco shops to continue. The amendment would allow those specialists shops to continue mail order selling. In some cases, that amounts to the majority of their business, and without it they would be greatly disadvantaged and their future would be called into doubt.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) is right to suggest that the Minister has had little, if any, contact with other Ministers to take soundings on the subject. In a brief, nay, curt letter that she sent just 10 days ago to the Imported Tobacco Products Advisory Council, she says:

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    ''I am afraid that the Government does not support the amendment you suggest. The Bill therefore bans all direct mail advertising for tobacco products unless the advertisement originates at the request of the customer on each and every occasion. This protects people from being bombarded with advertising material.''

That is a familiar phrase. The ''bombarding'' test has now been imposed on specialist tobacconists, even though there is a particular case for allowing them to sell by mail order. Mail order is not going to attract first-time smokers or children to smoking. It is aimed at a specialist market of people who take up and continue smoking cigars or pipes in full cognisance of what they are doing, and of the implications of it. I fear that the tone of her language and the term ''bombarded'' suggests that she has no sympathy with that. That is a shame, but will the hon. Lady revisit some of the more detailed points raised by the three amendments? I make a particular plea for the specialist small tobacconists to be able to continue their activities, without an obvious effect on the most vulnerable people whom we are all keen to protect. I look forward to the Minister's reply, as I am sure that she has now had time to formulate a response to the Swedish case, given that it came up a few weeks ago. Unless the Government have fully taken that into consideration, it threatens to undermine a great deal of what they are trying to achieve under the Bill, much of which I agree with.

Yvette Cooper: Amendment No. 11 would create an exemption for specialist publications aimed at existing smokers. Amendment No. 12 would create an exemption for a specialist publication for which people have not withdrawn their request in writing, and amendment No. 14 would exempt anything sent by a specialist tobacconist to an identified individual, who does not have to be an existing customer. I shall explain why the Government oppose the amendments and will take each one in turn.

Amendment No. 11 does not refer specifically to a specialist tobacconist, but says that a specialist publication—by anyone, including major tobacco companies—could be directed at existing adult users of tobacco products. It would allow tobacco companies to send all sorts of publications, as long as they were described as specialist publications, about their products to anyone who is a smoker. That would create a massive loophole. We know that 70 per cent. of smokers say that they want to give up. We also know that tobacco advertising is often targeted at preventing people from giving up smoking or making it more difficult for them to do so.

For example, advertisements are aimed at people during the new year period—exactly when people may be considering giving up smoking. It is not right that, just because people smoke, they should be bombarded—an appropriate word—with advertisements that may make it more difficult for them to give up. Given that tobacco is an addictive product, if people want to try to give up smoking, they should have the right to do so and receive the right support to that end. I strongly oppose amendment No. 11, which would allow tobacco companies to send a tobacco advertisement to existing smokers or users of tobacco products.

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Amendment No. 12 would create a slightly less gaping hole. It would allow specialist publications to be sent to people who at some point in their lives had expressed a wish to receive them. Members of the Committee will have continued to receive mail from organisations that they have no recollection of having agreed to, or will have received information because of once filling in a coupon. What about people who may at some time in their lives had wanted to receive a specialist publication, but who had decided three or four years down the line to give up smoking? If such people continually receive advertisements, leaflets with special offers of free gifts and promotional material on tobacco products from tobacco companies, they would find it more difficult to give up smoking. The fact that, at one point in their lives, they had said that they wanted such a communication should not be the green light for them to be sent such communications for years to come. Many people take up smoking and decide later to give up; that is their right, and if they choose to do that, they should be free from tobacco advertising.

Amendment No. 14 raises the issue of specialist tobacconists. We recognise that they face special circumstances, and clause 6—which we shall discuss later—addresses them. They are legitimate businesses, and that clause sets out different circumstances for them.

However, specialist tobacconists should not be able to send out communications to any identified individual, which is what the amendment proposes. That individual does not have to be a customer, or someone who has requested information. That individual can just be someone whose name the tobacconist knows. Their name might have been bought, because companies circulate and share lists of customers, and then they start sending them unsolicited mail, which, in this instance, would, in effect, be a tobacco advertisement. If specialist tobacconists were allowed to do that, it would be a significant loophole.

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It is right that specialist tobacconists, like everyone else, should be able to respond to requests by individuals for information about tobacco products, as is set out in clause 4(1)(b). However, it is also right that they should only respond to individual requests, which is why we oppose amendment No. 14.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham asked if the decision by the European Court of Justice with regard to Sweden had any bearing on the matter under discussion. It does not. I do not think that anything in the judgment casts doubt on the Bill's compliance with the treaty obligations.

The decision that the Swedish courts made on proportionality and impact addressed alcohol advertising. Alcohol advertising raises different public health issues from tobacco advertising. That is why we are proposing a ban on tobacco advertising in this country, rather than one on alcohol advertising.

 
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