Standing Committee A
Tuesday 6 February 2001
[Mr. Humfrey Malins in the Chair]
Prohibition of Free Distributions
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): I want to discuss the general points of the clause that were not brought out by the amendments. As in previous clauses, clause 8, in subsections (6) and (7), allows the Secretary of State to determine through regulations the large part of the Bill that refers to coupons. We discussed earlier how difficult that would be for those who must work with the Bill, because we are, at best, handing over an empty box into which the Government can place the regulations.
I want to impress on the Minister the need to assist those who must work with the Bill with clear guidance about what is meant by coupons, given that we accept that doing away with coupons is a done deal. We argued that the phrase ``nominal sum'' was too vague, and the Minister agreed to look for another form of words. I hope that she will accept that producers of tobacco products should not be expected to go to court to determine what the law is in this area. The guidance must be clear, and if the Bill is insufficiently clear or could create a loophole, we need to find an alternative form of words.
I hope that the Minister has had time to consult with her civil servants so that she may respond to the legitimate inquiries of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) about loyalty cards. The more I thought about that point, the more important it seemed that we should not leave it to hang in the air. There is probably an easy explanation, but it is an important question, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I would not say that the hon. Lady misled the Committee about coupons this morning, but Staffordshire pottery is not the only thing that people can get from the tobacco companies. I thought that I should intervene to say exactly how coupon promotions come into the public domain. I have a Gratis catalogue that was published by Benson and Hedges in 1996. Complaints were made about it to the Advertising Standards Authority, or to the subdivision of the ASA that dealt with cigarettes at the time. It advertises many things, including children's skateboards, helmets, toys and garden tools. Other brands even offer international flights.
Those promotions are not just little knick-knacks for people to put on their sideboards. Coupons are big business, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out on Second Reading. People may assume that they are simply
a bonus that people get for smoking cigarettes and that it is not connected with anything else to do with cigarettes, such as their promotion. It is clear that if people are collecting vouchers, they will stick with a brand, because that is how they get the coupons for children's toys, or whatever. There are no iron lungs in the catalogues, but there are other things that they might find useful at some stage.
Some evidence on smoking was published in a report by the Select Committee on Health last June. A qualitative research summary report``Brand equity check for Benson & Hedges in conjunction with exploration of the Gratis catalogue loyalty scheme''was prepared for Gallaher by Colquhoun Associates in June 1996, around the time of the objections to the Gratis catalogue on the grounds of what people believed it promoted. Colquhoun Associates looked at the effect of the Gratis catalogue scheme and how it operated at the time. The Select Committee report, appendix 26, says:
``Benson & Hedges sponsorship of Formula One is entirely coherent with expectations and offers the brand many opportunities to capitalise on positive associations. For instance, by sponsoring Formula One respondents claimed it made them believe that Benson & Hedges was a big, major league, very powerful brand with plenty of money. It also lent associations to the brand with young, fast, racy, adult, exciting, aspirational but attainable environments. It was coherent with all that respondents knew of the brand but also extended associative territory to make the brand more youthful, more dynamic and more exciting.''
The point is that coupons are not just about getting something back for smoking a particular brand. They aid to the promotion of cigarettes, and clearly lead to wider identification. The difficulty that faces the Committee is how to pull apart advertising and promotion, which are interlinked as they sell positive images about tobacco in our society. That interconnection has been identified in different reports over many years. We must recognise that the coupon scheme, in part defended by the Opposition at one of our earlier sittings, is nothing more than the promotion of cigarettes.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I agree that we should not have the specific coupon to which the Government refer. What I pointed out, however, was that ordinary loyalty cards are caught by the clause. Is the hon. Gentleman happy about that, and will he make sure that the loophole that ordinary loyalty cards currently enjoy is not left open for tobacco companies to exploit?
Mr. Barron: The hon. Gentleman is the only Committee member up to now who claims that ordinary loyalty cards will be trapped by the legislation. He clearly knows better than the parliamentary draftsmen and lawyers who have written the legislation: perhaps he is in the wrong job. The Bill is directly targeted at stopping the Gratis catalogue and other methods of promotion, not just by Benson and Hedges, but by many other tobacco companies. Those methods provide more than just little teapots for the sideboard: they do a lot to promote unhealthy tobacco in our society. The Government have recognised that, and I am pleased to support the clause.
Mr. Bruce: It is incumbent on critics of a clause or part of a Bill to try to help Ministers, and I hope that the Minister will feel that I am helping her. I pointed out earlier just how faulty the clause is, because it catches something that the Government do not intend to catch.
I may be able to help the Minister with a little story about my own office when I started up a company for myself in Yorkshire. It was an employment agency, and at the time in question about six people were working for me. Three were occasional smokers, and three were not. We were based in an office about an eighth of the size of this room, with a fairly low ceiling. The non-smokers were somewhat upset about the amount of smoke coming into our lungs.
I observed what happened first thing in the morning when my staff arrived. There was always an uncomfortable shuffling, then one young lady working for me would offer the other two young ladies a cigarette. Each would remember from the day before when it was her turn to offer, and each felt a social obligation to do so, as they would if they were treating in a pub. Once they had smoked those cigarettes, the next person in line would think, even if she did not really fancy a cigarette, that the others might want one, and would offer her cigarettes round.
That example of giving a cigarette to someone elseand the Bill would not catch this situation, since my employees were not part and parcel of the tobacco tradeprovides a big illustration of how giving away free cigarettes is a promotion of cigarettes. There cannot be a cigarette paper between the two sides of the Committee on that. In my office, the six of us sat down to discuss how to reduce smoking in the office. We made a very simple rule, which everyone agreed to. Quite simply, no-one offered anyone else a cigarette. Almost instantaneously, cigarette consumption went down to a quarter of what it had been before, and one of the people gave up smoking.
I do not argue that someone in business who invites people to dinner should not give them free cigars at the end, even if that person has nothing to do with the tobacco industry. The Minister might say, ``That bloke Bruce is on to something. Maybe he does understand that there is a route here to reducing peoples' consumption of cigarettes.'' That, after all, is what we intend to do, and someone who works in the tobacco industry tells me that if he offered someone a cigarette in a normal social environment, he would be caught by the clause. He said that to advertise is simply to refer to something, and to give something away is simply a means of doing that.
The Minister might consider what she means to do, because the clause creates a rather strange situation. The Minister says that the Bill does not do what I suggest that it does, but at the same time she tries to say that the Conservatives are against reducing the amount of tobacco being smoked. In fact, I certainly want people to reduce their consumption of tobacco.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): It seems to me that every time the hon. Gentleman stands up, he contradicts himself. In the scenario that he has just outlined, the individuals who had bought the cigarettes gave them freely to each other. There was no gift involved, because they each bought the same number of cigarettes. The hon. Gentleman has merely demonstrated that my hon. Friend the Minister is the right person to be answering for the Government, because the Bill deals with a health issue. When the hon. Gentleman, as the employer responsible for the group, got the six people together, they realised the damage they were doing to each other's health, and stopped smoking.
Mr. Bruce: I am not sure that the Committee is any further enlightened by my giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he would like to make a speech himself about how he believes that the clause will help matters.
Opposition Members are telling the Minister that the clause catches things that she does not intend to catch. Perhaps that will be a good thing, but people ought to know what they are being prevented from doing. The use of loyalty cards is clearly caught, and if the Government do not intend that, I urge the Minister to produce an amendment. She could say that retailers such as W H Smith that provide £5 coupons through a loyalty system could simply print, ``This coupon cannot be exchanged for tobacco.'' Using coupons to buy tobacco products is clearly one of the things that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is trying to avoid happening. I accept that the connection between receiving a gift and the purchase of tobacco would be a good link to break.
The tobacco industry understands that link, and that is a legitimate concern of the Government. If a father is smoking cigarettes and his child receives toys from the loyalty card, the link may suggest to the child that it is good if the father keeps smoking cigarettes rather than his worrying that if his father continues to smoke and dies, the child will have no money. That is a serious point, which the Government must examine carefully if they are to make sure that the Bill is properly drafted.