|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
John Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention as he reminds of something that I forgot to include in my speech. If the matter were left to me, I should do away with cigarettes and the tobacco industry altogether.
Familiarity supposedly breeds contempt, and perhaps that may be true when the slogan is always printed in the same place on the pack--people no longer read it. If we were really trying to be good, we should implore the tobacco companies to be more jazzy with their slogan and move it about a bit. However, that would cost them money on their packaging, so they might not want to do it.
I had the impression that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) did not think that what the Government were doing was much good. He seemed to think it was better to do nothing than try to do something. That is a strange view. Surely, if we want to improve things, we need to do something more rather than leaving things as they are. He said that the number of people who were taking up smoking, and who were smoking, was on the increase. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) might argue with the hon. Gentleman on that point. However, if it is true, perhaps we should do something about it--doing nothing is not an option. We should be finding innovative ways to stop people smoking--as I thought we were trying to do.
I find it sad that Conservative Members are engaging in point scoring on a subject that affects people's health. When 120,000 people are dying each year, should we be bandying points about whether cigarettes are being imported illegally? Should we not be saying that we will do our best to stop that? We should never get away from the fact that we want to stop young people from taking up smoking in the first place. Scoring points off one another--saying, "My Government have done this and your Government have done that"--is not what we should be about. We are trying to protect the young people of this country; we are also trying to protect the rest of the people in this country--to stop them dying.
Some of the comments made by Opposition Members are unbelievable. They made feeble excuses and said that we should vote against the Bill because of tobacco smuggling and because people are smoking more. We need to consider such measures because we are trying to improve the health of the nation.
People in the tobacco industry claim that they do not target the young. If that is so, why do young people begin to smoke? Surely, if there was no advertising--no sight of the product--sales would be affected.
Under the Bill, it would continue to be possible to keep cigarettes near the till in a shop. We need to examine that matter. Young children buy sweets or magazines and if they are confronted with cigarettes in a colourful display,
Do children learn about smoking from their parents? That is possible. My mother smoked; I did not take it up but my sister did, so perhaps she was influenced by my mother. However, that does not explain why children whose parents do not smoke take up smoking. Why do they do so? Peer pressure was mentioned earlier; it is probably the most important factor.
We should not represent smoking as being cool. I watched a television interview with Robbie Williams--a particular favourite of a couple of my daughters--during which he was smoking. The media must exercise responsibility. Why was Robbie Williams interviewed smoking? Why did he smoke when he knew that it would influence many young fans--especially those in the 11 to 15 age group that we have mentioned? We must get across to people the message that they must be responsible; just as hon. Members should exercise responsibility, so should people who attract high media coverage. Given his influence on young people, why was Robbie Williams not asked to put out his cigarette? Education is needed--unfortunately, it would appear, for the Opposition as well.
We need to reconsider the provisions in clause 4 on the display of tobacco products near tills. Under clause 8, free samples and gifts of money or coupons are to be prohibited. The short-term effect of the provision is to prevent branded products--such as cigarette lighters--being given away, thus stopping the advertising of tobacco brands. That is a sensible measure and the Government are to be congratulated on it. There may be a loophole, though. The research paper notes that people will be exempt from prosecution if they can show that they did
Clause 9 deals with the prohibition of tobacco sponsorship. The Government want the matter to be dealt with quickly. I want it to be even sooner than the date of 1 October 2006 referred to in clause 18--30 July 2003 is mentioned in the research paper. That extra few years is too long.
Some of the targets cited in the research paper are on the safe side. We shall be forgiven for not meeting targets, but we shall never be forgiven for not trying. Although I accept that it is better to be realistic than adventurous, the best work is usually done when targets are challenging but attainable. The target set for 2010 could and should be met earlier--perhaps by 2008. I should be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees with that. Perhaps she could explain why we need to wait until 2010 to achieve modest improvements.
I am pleased that the education campaign is high on the agenda, with an emphasis on young people. I am also pleased that tighter regulation and enforcement is a high priority. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the Bill, and I hope that it receives the vote that it deserves tonight.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) in the debate, because at least he was honest; he said that if he had his way, he would abolish tobacco. I am afraid the denizens of the Labour party at its headquarters in Millbank may be circling around the hon. Gentleman, because although the Government may not know how the ban will affect cigarette consumption, as sure as eggs is eggs they will know how many Labour party supporters smoke. The hon. Gentleman's remarks, although honest, will not be well received by the Labour party.
I was struck by a remark made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). He accused the Conservative party of being addicted to the tobacco industry, but I am addicted to personal freedom. The essential point is that the Bill represents a serious restriction on the freedom of companies to advertise a freely available and legal product.
Mr. Barron: May I be more succinct and ask the hon. Gentleman what is the difference between the Bill and the ban, which started more than 30 years ago, on advertising cigarettes on television? Why has he never proposed that we get rid of such voluntary agreements, which have been accepted and negotiated with the tobacco companies since 1964?
Mr. Atkinson: Surely the hon. Gentleman can understand that there is a fundamental difference between something that is compulsory and something that is voluntary. Irrespective of whether people like tobacco or think it dangerous, the proposal is that we should tell the companies, whose product is legally available for sale, that they cannot advertise it. That is a form of censorship. If this were the United States, there would be outrage at the Government's proposals because they represent an attack on freedom of the press and the individual, and freedom of expression.
Mr. Barron: Let me put another point to the hon. Gentleman. Pharmaceutical products are licensed, restricted and regulated in this country. I cannot get them free because I have an income, but I can get them on prescription from my doctor. They are controlled and cannot be advertised because, although they can improve health, they can also damage it. The product that the hon. Gentleman defends damages health to the extent that 300 people die prematurely each day from its legitimate use. How can he say that it is wrong to restrict its advertising if that is done with pharmaceutical products, which can also endanger life?
Mr. Atkinson: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I said that people are permitted to advertise a freely available product. Aspirin and other products that can be bought over the counter can be advertised freely, but restricted medicines, which are available to pharmacists, cannot be advertised. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman cannot understand that there is a world of difference between the two.
Some hon. Members like to demonise the tobacco industry, but it is important and employs thousands of people, including many in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Health. They have rights, too. They have the right to have their case properly argued. The Government have failed to produce the figures on which they base their contention that tobacco consumption will fall if there is a ban on its advertising.