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Mr. Illsley: My hon. Friend makes a fair and valid point. The implements that he mentioned carry warnings about their use. If used properly, those implements should not cause problems. Such implements could cause accidents if used in the wrong manner, but they will not harm other people, whereas smoking does--through passive smoking. More than 110,000 deaths each year are attributed to smoking. One person dies every day from passive smoking. That is not my figure, but was given by the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) at the Dispatch Box a year ago during the debate on the Bill on tobacco advertising introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). The right hon. Gentleman said that 50 children under the age of five were admitted to hospital with illnesses related to passive smoking. Those are Government figures that are accepted by the House. Those are the health issues with which we should be primarily concerned when debating the Bill. The Government White Paper, "The Health of the Nation", recognised the dangers of smoking and devoted a considerable amount of space to that issue. The White Paper states that there are several hundred lung cancer deaths each year in non-smokers as a result of passive smoking. It states that smoking is linked to foetal and neo-natal mortality and low birth weight. It states that smoking contributes to 30 per cent. of all cancer deaths, and 80 per cent. of deaths from lung cancer; smoking accounts for 18 per cent. of coronary heart disease deaths and 11 per cent. of stroke deaths. That is Government information on targets, levels of sickness, illness and deaths contained in their White Paper, "The Health of the Nation". There is a health problem.
"The Health of the Nation" sets Government targets in relation to smoking. Its aims include reducing
Column 1281"the prevalence of cigarette smoking to no more than 20 per cent. by the year 2000"
"consumption of cigarettes by at least 40 per cent. by the year 2000."
The paper also states that, in addition to the overall reduction in prevalence, at least 33 per cent. of women smokers should stop smoking at the start of pregnancy by the year 2000. The targets also include reducing the prevalence of smoking among those aged under 15 by at least 33 per cent. by 1994.
I should be interested to see whether Conservative Members questioned the Secretary of State for Health when the document was released on how many jobs in the tobacco industry would be lost by the year 2000 as a result of achieving those aims. I suggest that people welcomed the targets without mentioning the problems that would be caused to British industry.
Mr. Robert Banks: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will refer to the point that has reasonably been made that British cigarette manufacturers will be at a great disadvantage if they have a larger health warning on their packets. People will assume that those cigarettes are more dangerous than those purchased in packets from abroad which have smaller health warnings. Is it not true that, if a campaign were mounted to ensure the same definition on health warning sizes across the European Union, the House would support it?
Mr. Illsley: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He was right to say that there is a distinctive difference in the size of the warnings--a fact also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley. The hon. Gentleman believes that people will automatically assume that some cigarettes are more dangerous than others. That might be so, but he will see that the two packets that I have before me contain the same cigarettes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley mentioned consumer protection. If cigarette packets contained more product information, and if the levels of nicotine, tar and other elements of tobacco were included in the health warning, people might understand that they were buying exactly the same cigarettes, with exactly the same levels of tar and nicotine.
At the same time, I accept that it is an argument that we should consider. I would support consideration of a European-wide increase in the size of the health warning on packets of cigarettes. If the Bill is considered in Committee, we can debate that development at some length and perhaps accommodate the points made in interventions by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh).
Mr. Illsley: The purpose of the Bill is to put the United Kingdom in front of the European Union by increasing the size of our health warning to 25 per cent. of the surface area of the packet. We are seeking to lead the debate in Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley has said, the matter is to be considered again by
Column 1282the European Union later this year. Perhaps there can be recommendations for an increase in the size of the label at that stage.
A comparison could be made with animal welfare, on which the Government are supposedly leading the debate in Europe. Why are they not leading the debate in public health matters, such as the labelling of cigarette packets?
Mr. Illsley: How are we to lead the debate in Europe unless we can persuade the Government of the day to lead the debate in the council chambers of Europe? If we cannot persuade our Government--they need persuading because they rejected a Bill on tobacco advertising last year, and it is likely that they will not accept the Bill that is before us--how can we lead the debate in Europe? The Government should accept the Bill's Second Reading and allow a full debate in Committee. There are obvious differences on both sides of the House when it comes to the European directive and the Bill's provisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley maintains that the Bill should not disadvantage us in Europe if the Government press for a similar increase in the size of warnings on European products.
In the debate on tobacco advertising that took place last year, it was accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley that adult smoking rates had fallen. There is, however, a dispute among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the extent to which levels of smoking have fallen. It was accepted in the debate last year that from 1982 to 1992 the prevalence of smoking among adults had fallen from 35 per cent. to 28 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley described that as a "significant improvement". I endorse that comment wholeheartedly.
For 15-year-olds, the story is different. Between 1982 and 1992, the comparable figures are 24 per cent. and 23 per cent. The prevalence of smoking among 15-year-olds has hardly changed, hence the need for increased warnings to address ourselves to the problem of young people smoking, especially girls and young women, who are now the most vulnerable group in terms of smoking.
It has been well documented that by the age of 15 years eight out of 10 adults who become regular smokers have adopted the habit. The age of 15 is not particularly old for children who smoke. The figures tell us that 500 young people a day take up smoking. It is obvious that that figure is far too high.
When it comes to children aged between 11 and 15 years, the target imposed by the Government's White Paper is clearly failing. It was hoped to reduce the prevalence of smoking in that age group to 6 per cent. Sadly, by 1993 it had risen to 10 per cent. The trend is reversing among children aged between 11 and 15 years. We are going the wrong way. Therefore, we must deal with the question of warnings.
The Government targets for young people are not being met, although the trends for adults are encouraging. I must return to "The Health of the Nation" White Paper, which says:
"Predictions of future trends are hard to make and subject to wide error. It cannot be assumed that current trends in the reduction of smoking prevalence will necessarily continue, since the smokers that
Column 1283remain are likely to be the heavier and more dependent ones who find it hard to give up. Considerable effort will therefore be required even to maintain the present trends"--
to maintain present trends among adult smokers and reverse the trend among younger smokers. What better measure to try to buck that trend than the Bill?
The White Paper continues, under the heading "Smoking cessation": "To achieve the objective it will be necessary that new smokers are not recruited to the habit and also that those who already smoke are able to stop."
The provisions of the Bill are exactly what the White Paper refers to--an increase in the size of the health warning to deter people from starting to smoke. The bigger the health warning, the bigger the shock at seeing it. That is obvious. It is an incentive to people not to buy cigarettes or, perhaps, not to use them. We must take the steps outlined in Government-- not Opposition--policy to reduce the prevalence of smoking.
On the provisions of the Bill and the arguments surrounding it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley pointed out, it will increase the size of the health warning on a packet of cigarettes to cover 25 per cent. of the pack's surface area. It has been argued that the present level of 6 per cent. is about 50 per cent. higher than the size of warning required by our European partners--that is 6 per cent. of the surface area against 4 per cent.
Australia and Canada have adopted 25 per cent. As far as I am aware, little research is available from those countries, mainly because Australia adopted the 25 per cent. level only in January and Canada adopted it in September 1994 and so it is far too early to judge the impact of those warnings on smoking prevalence.
The Bill also calls for different colours to be used for health warnings on packets and for the lettering to be in black on white with a black border, or the reverse if the lettering is white. In the past, the lettering on the health warning on some packets was the same colour as that on the rest of the pack and was thus disguised, not easily readable and merely part of the rest of the wording. When the labelling regime was put in place, the Government admitted that they had received representations warning them that the labelling and the health warning were too small. The Health Education Authority said that the effect would be marginal because it was difficult to read the warning, which was easily ignored. It suggested 33 per cent., which is higher than the requirement in the Bill. The Cancer Research Campaign wanted an increased size in the warning, consistent with Government policy on reducing smoking rates. The International Union Against Cancer said that the figure should be 25 per cent. and the British Medical Association said that warnings would be a deterrent only if they were substantially increased in size.
I have seen examples of the various cigarette packets available in Canada and Australia and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley circulated a colour photocopy of some of the packs available. Any hon. Members who have seen the photocopies can see instantly the difference in the effectiveness of the larger health warning, compared with that required on British packs.
The warning on the bottom of a packet of cigarettes can be easily hidden if packets are stacked on shelves. As the lettering is the same as on the rest of the packet, it can be easily disguised, so its size needs to be increased.
Column 1284The current warning on Australian and Canadian packets can be seen from a few feet away whereas it is impossible to see the warning on a British packet from that distance. Moreover, the colour contrast of the black and white labelling makes it extremely effective. The wording should continue to warn of the dangers of smoking. We risk becoming complacent about the current warning. This morning we heard hon. Members say that, as everyone knows about the warning, we do not need to change the area of the packet subject to labelling. It is clear that we need to repeat the warning and, if we have reached the stage where everyone is aware of it but we still have a high prevalence of smoking, perhaps the time has come to jog people's memories and reinforce the message in the White Paper, "The Health of the Nation".
As we continue to learn of the harmful effects of cigarettes, we should continue to reinforce the message about the dangers of smoking. We should reflect the new evidence of those dangers in the warning and make the message direct. We must say that cigarettes are addictive and can harm children, and that smoking while pregnant is likely to harm the unborn child. Perhaps we should also reinforce the message about passive smoking. I shall say no more about that in view of hon. Members' comments following a visit to the House by the late Roy Castle.
It is well known and accepted that young people associate certain images with brands of cigarettes. When I was younger, the John Player Special brand was associated with motor racing, and Marlboro is still associated with McLaren and motor racing. I imagine that that image appeals to young people and we must deal with that if we are to reduce the prevalence of smoking among young people.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) warned that smuggling was affecting jobs in his constituency and that, if we increased the size of health warnings on cigarette packets, more contraband tobacco would enter the country and damage jobs in his constituency. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, I come from a mining area and need no lectures on protecting jobs, as my constituency lost as many jobs as anywhere else. We lost those jobs because the country no longer wants coal. There is some dispute about whether we think that the country needs coal, but the Government accept that it no longer wants coal and forced a decision on the coal mining industry which lost hundreds of thousands of jobs through evolution and the increased use of gas turbine technology. By the same token, as the country becomes more educated about the dangers of smoking, we shall need less tobacco. Sadly for the hon. Member for Ealing, North, jobs will be lost in his constituency. He will not lose overnight the hundreds of thousands of jobs that were lost within a few years in the coal mining industry, but he will lose jobs. He must face the fact that the country wants a reduction in tobacco smoking and that that is the Government's health policy. The hon. Gentleman must come to terms with that.
Some of my hon. Friends and I argued on successive Finance Bills for the assimilation of levels of duty on tobacco and alcohol to try to prevent contraband tobacco entering the country and the high level of smuggling, which affect jobs in this country. It is a supreme irony that coal miners from my constituency have been charged with importing contraband alcohol and cigarettes. It is a
Column 1285pity that the hon. Member for Ealing, North is not in his place because I am sure that he would have appreciated that irony. The argument that tobacco manufacturers might turn to Europe and that more cigarettes will be imported does not hold sway. As the health warning area in this country is 6 per cent. and in Europe 4 per cent., why has not production switched overseas and imports increased? They remain at 6 million cigarettes, compared with 82 million cigarettes manufactured in this country.
Mr. Illsley: The tobacco industry did not think so, because it took the Government to court. It felt that the 50 per cent. difference between 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. to which the Minister referred earlier was significant enough to initiate litigation. The danger of European imports has been overstated. Provision is made in the Bill to deal with such matters. There are differences between both sides of the House on the European directive, but it is worth allowing the Bill to proceed so that they may be argued in detail. Action on Smoking and Health produced a report for the Health Education Authority in December 1990 on the impact of the first Council directive on tobacco labelling. Unfortunately, it is not specific about the number interviewed in assessing popular views of health warnings. It stated:
"The impact of the new cigarette pack warnings exposed in this research is likely to be marginal whatever the nature of the message, because of their comparatively small size . . . There is a tendency to interpret the smallness of the warnings as evidence of government duplicity. More worryingly"--
this point was raised by the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks)--
"there also seems to be a tendency to equate the size of the warning with the magnitude of the risk."
The message is, increase the size of the warning and the perception of risk will also increase. The report continued:
"To maximise the impact of the new back-of-pack warnings, the optimum strategy would be to increase their size, position them near the top of the pack, rotate them frequently and ensure maximum colour clash with brand livery."
Opponents of the Bill argue that brand identity and trade marks, which tobacco companies spend much time developing, would be affected by larger warnings. The hon. Member for Luton, North, who is not in his place, commented from a sedentary position that packs would have to be redesigned. We saw from the photocopies circulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and from cigarette packs displayed in the Chamber that pack colours remain the same. Customers identify brand names--they do not go into a tobacconist and say, "I will have those cigarettes in the shiny black and white pack." Packs have already been redesigned to accommodate Canadian and Australian requirements, so the effect on
Column 1286trade marks would not be as bad as some people suggest. A 25 per cent. warning area would not obscure the majority of pack names.
Mr. Illsley: I am. That brings me to the argument on the European directive, as to whether we should enforce the requirements on imported cigarettes. That point was raised several times this morning, and the hon. Gentleman has been present for most of the debate. That is another argument for allowing the Bill to proceed.
It has been said that health warnings would infringe on the right to freedom of expression, but I do not accept that. The country wants to protect its health and that should be the main issue of the debate. It has also been said that the state or the European Union has no business to legislate in this area. The Government have produced a White Paper, have set targets and are pushing on the issue of smoking. Sadly, they are not doing enough in relation to the targets, which are now being reduced. Therefore, that argument does not add up.
It is said that consumers already know about the dangers of smoking. Many of them do, and many know about the health warning which has been with us for 22 years. That means that there should be no problem about increasing its size because, if that argument is valid, people will just say, "Oh, it is just the health warning again." The idea is to reinforce it so as to make it more effective to younger people and to those who want to stop.
It is said that health warnings have no effect on consumer awareness, but I do not think that that is true. Health warnings do have an effect on consumer awareness and a 25 per cent. warning would have an even better effect.
The Government have tried to reduce the consumption of tobacco through duty. There has been a reduction in the prevalence of smoking, but it is interesting to note that in 1985 tax as the share of the price of a packet of cigarettes was 74.6 per cent. In 1994 it was 76.4 per cent. so the Government are not doing much through duty to reduce consumption. The manufacturers may be able to increase prices dramatically, but the Government's share by way of duty is not having the influence that many of us would like to think it has. Smoking among children is increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley has said that 500 young recruits are needed every day to replace the 300 who die every day. The Bill is a sensible measure which deserves a Second Reading and time in Committee. It deserves to become part of the law of the land and I hope that the House will vote for it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville): I welcome this opportunity to contribute on behalf of the Government to this Second Reading debate on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), whose constituency borders mine. His utterances and his activities are reported in my local newspaper and I can assure the House that he
Column 1287is a model Member of Parliament. He has even been known to put up posters on poster sites at Christmas wishing his constituents a happy Christmas.
Mr. Sackville: Perhaps they need one. He has been involved in many high-profile campaigns for the public good to do with telephone services. It is no surprise that in a totally unselfish way, he should seek to improve the health of the nation through this Bill. There is surely common ground in the House on the importance of reducing tobacco consumption, and agreement on the illnesses and premature deaths that it causes. The Government and, I hope, all hon. Members are fully committed to that objective. However, we differ in our approach and in deciding how effectively to achieve a reduction in smoking. Government strategy is based on identifying the factors that are known to affect smoking behaviour and on taking firm, effective action on all fronts.
I stress that that strategy has proved successful. Over the past 20 years, levels of smoking have fallen from 45 per cent. of the population to about 28 per cent. As has been said, that is one of the best records in Europe and is second only to that of the Netherlands.
In considering the Bill, we need to assess whether it would help to deliver the further reduction in smoking to which we are all committed. To reduce the damage caused by tobacco use, about which there is no dispute, the Government set ambitious long-term targets in "The Health of the Nation" White Paper. There are separate strategies for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland. The World Health Organisation has commended our target- based approach as a model for other countries. The targets we have set are ambitious not just because they require quicker progress than would be achieved on the basis of historic trends, but because the minority of people who now smoke are likely to be more dependent on their habit. It is essential that strategies to meet the targets are based on the factors most likely to achieve actual behavioural change. We are making good progress against three of the four targets. For example, in the four years to June 1994, the actual number of cigarettes consumed fell by 14.5 billion, a reduction of 15 per cent. However, there are sectors in which we are not making progress. We must be frank and say that the behaviour of, in particular, 11 to 15-year-olds is very worrying. That underlines the continuing importance of not only specific initiatives targeting young people but effective measures to reduce smoking among the population as a whole. Parents have a strong influence on children's smoking habits, which is why our entire strategy to reduce smoking is focused on young people.
Ms Jowell: The Minister is stumbling over his Government's apology for their failure to reduce the number of young people smoking, especially young girls. He will be aware that 99 per cent. of smokers are established in the habit by the time they are 20. Therefore, it is important that we adopt any measure that will reduce
Column 1288the rate of recruitment to smoking. Britain has been less successful than almost any other European country, especially France, Spain and Greece, in the rate of reduction in the number of young people who smoke--
Mr. Sackville: I must correct the hon. Lady--I did not stumble through any apology; it was simply my usual diffident speaking style. The whole strategy that we have adopted accords with what the hon. Lady has said in that it is focused on young people. We must stop them taking up smoking.
We have developed strategies on a number of fronts. In February 1994 we published the Government's action plan, "Smoke-Free for Health". It provides a clear and comprehensive framework within which national and local organisations can play their part in reducing smoking. I shall describe some of the main areas. One of the most important parts of any effective strategy to reduce smoking must be to ensure progressive increases in the price of tobacco.
Research from all round the world shows that every 10 per cent. increase in the price of tobacco leads to a reduction in consumption of between 3 and 6 per cent. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given a commitment to increase tobacco duty by at least 3 per cent. a year in real terms. The last two years' Budget changes have increased the price of 20 cigarettes by 37p, an increase of 13.5 per cent. in real terms. That means that the United Kingdom has the second-highest cigarette prices in Europe and the highest prices for hand-rolling tobacco.
We have also been active in trying to persuade other European countries to consider the health benefits of raising taxes on tobacco--not only out of regard for the health of our fellow Europeans, but so that the health impact of UK prices is not undermined by cross-border shipping within a single market. We have continued to ensure that there are effective controls on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
On 1 January, the main provisions of a revised, strengthened, voluntary agreement on advertising came into force. That includes the withdrawal of all permanent shop front advertising for all tobacco products by the end of next year, a dramatic cut in permitted spending on cigarette poster advertising to below 30 per cent. of the 1980 level in real terms, and the removal of all mobile advertising and all advertising on bus shelters and other small sites. When we published the new agreement, we announced a new separate agreement with the industry to ensure that cigarette packets did not contain any pictorial matter likely to appeal especially to children. The hon. Member for Worsley mentioned Camel and advertising that looked as though it might be especially appealing to children. That was withdrawn, and that demonstrates the value of a voluntary agreement.
Other key parts of the strategy include action to ensure that retailers follow the law preventing illegal sales to under-16s, to encourage managers of public places and workplaces to introduce effective policies to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke, to improve scientific understanding of the risks from tobacco and to reduce harm from tobacco products. We remain convinced of the value of a voluntary agreement.
Column 1289On the issue at the heart of the Bill, it is a central part of the Government's overall strategy to ensure that the public understand the serious health risks of smoking. Wherever possible, the aim should be to discourage people, especially children, from taking up the habit in the first place. We must also ensure that smokers who want to quit receive all the support that they can.
Health warnings on tobacco products form part of a wide range of initiatives. For instance, we are continuing to expand national health education campaigns. In December, the Department of Health announced the biggest-ever national campaign on smoking, investing £13.5 million, which will run for three years and focus particularly on parents. Children with parents who both smoke are at least twice more likely to be regular smokers than children with non-smoking parents.
Education on the health risks of smoking is a statutory requirement in the national curriculum for children between the ages of seven and 16. There are new arrangements to encourage general practitioners to give their patients advice on smoking. Under the voluntary agreement, health warnings appear on all items of advertising. The new agreement increases the size and clarity of warnings on press and poster advertisements. Unlike warnings on packets, those serve as a reminder of the health risks of smoking for people who have not taken up the habit.
It is against the background of those initiatives and of the many other measures to reduce smoking that the hon. Gentleman's Bill needs to be considered. Since the early 1970s, health warnings on packets have helped to provide basic health information to smokers. In 1992, we introduced new health warnings, following the adoption of the European Community directive. UK health warnings are now the largest of any European country. They are 50 per cent. bigger than the minimum required by the directive.
As has been acknowledged, the Government successfully defended an industry challenge in the European Court of Justice to try to reduce the size to the level of other countries. So we can be fairly confident of our bona fides in our commitment to reduce smoking. We probably have the strongest health warnings of any European country, including the warning "Smoking Kills". Little doubt exists that, along with all the other initiatives that I have outlined, those health warnings achieve their objective. Few smokers do not know that smoking damages health.
Mr. Barron: Will the Minister respond to what the former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), said in July 1991 in a press release about the regulations on labelling that were introduced in 1992? He said: "I believe that the new system of labelling will make a real contribution to achieving . . . the targets . . . in `The Health of the Nation'."
In my speech, I quoted a Tory central office briefing which said that the health warnings on cigarette packets did not make a difference. There is a clear contradiction
Column 1290here. Will the Minister tell me and the House why there was a change in the view of the Department of Health between 1991 and 1995? Can he answer that question?
Mr. Sackville: I cannot be responsible for all the various briefing papers that the hon. Gentleman has read. I can say that the view of the then Secretary of State for Health was that 6 per cent. was the appropriate size of warning. The Bill would require 25 per cent. When the directive was introduced, the majority of the various European Governments and the Commission took the view that 4 per cent. was the appropriate size. This is really a debating point. If the size of warning is such a powerful factor, why not make it 100 per cent? Why not cover all cigarette packets with all sorts of health details? If the hon. Member for Worsley thinks that that is a good idea, why was the Bill not drafted in that way?
Mr. Lewis: Why not sell cigarettes in brown paper packets? I have no problem with that. We tried to make the Bill fair and we have argued on an incremental scale. I share the Minister's ambition to go beyond the targets in "The Health of the Nation". The Bill is an incremental move; it is a serious move which will be commensurate with the risk.
Mr. Sackville: If the Bill is an incremental move, does that mean that the hon. Gentleman will introduce a Bill to provide for a larger size of warning next time? I do not know. The hon. Gentleman talks about fairness. The Government take the view that it is fair to have a 6 per cent. health warning, which is more than our learned colleagues in Europe appear to think. It is a matter of opinion. As I have said, if the larger the better, why stop at 25 per cent? The British Government have decided that 6 per cent. is an appropriate warning.
Mr. Barron: The Government consider that the 6 per cent. warning is appropriate; it was defended in the European Court, a matter on which I congratulate the Government. On the basis of what studies have the Government decided that 6 per cent. is the optimum size of warning on cigarette packets, as opposed to 25 per cent.? Why did the Department of Health take the decision that 6 per cent. should be the limit? It is the biggest size in Europe. On what basis did the Government take the decision that they could not accept the Bill?
Mr. Sackville: We could go round this all day. The 6 per cent. size provides a legible warning that can be seen by anybody who holds a packet. That is what was decided. I am glad to say that the warning is larger than the size decided by Europe.
Mr. Lewis: Will the Minister take on board the point that we are talking not just about the size of the warning? That is only one element. Perhaps the Minister should go to the nearest tobacconist and get a supply of a whole range of cigarette packets. If he does, he will see that the 6 per cent. warning is cleverly disguised against the background of the pack by the media people who work for the industry. One of the essential elements of the Bill is to make the lettering distinctive--black on white with a border or white on black with a border. It is not just a matter of size; it is also a matter of the way in which the warning is portrayed on the packet.
Column 1291justify the claim that a more prominent health warning would encourage a greater number of smokers to quit or discourage more non-smokers from taking up the habit.
Mr. Leigh: Do the Government have any evidence from the Law Officers or from anybody else to suggest that if the Bill were passed, they could prevent imports of cigarette packets bearing health warnings of only 4 to 6 per cent?
Mr. Sackville: The hon. Member for Worsley suggested that it would be possible for the Secretary of State for Health to take powers to impose the requirements in the Bill on all imported cigarettes. The legal advice that I have is that she could not take those powers. It is clear that the directive gives member states some discretion about the size of the warnings on domestically produced packets, but tobacco products imported from other EU countries must be allowed on the market if they conform with the labelling requirements of the directive. That is clear.
There can be little doubt that the health warnings are appropriate. That is why we have brought in a voluntary regime that allows a great variety of warnings.
If we are to influence behaviour, that is more likely to be achieved by a combination of factors, such as price and carefully targeted health promotion messages. One of the main themes of our national health education campaign is to get parents to think about the dangers of smoking not just to their own health, but to that of their children. Unfortunately, it takes more than a message on cigarette packs to get that signal across.
Supporters of the Bill have referred to the example of the health warnings carried on cigarette packets in Canada and in Australia. The United Kingdom's record on smoking should be assessed not by looking at narrow differences of approach with other countries but by considering how successful we have been in reducing tobacco consumption. Our record is not just one of the best in Europe, but one of the best in the world. From 1974 to 1990, tobacco consumption among adults fell by 39 per cent. That is a slightly greater reduction than that recorded in either Canada or Australia. It is also worth noting that there has been no real change in the Canadian level of smoking since 1986. Adult prevalence is still about between 31 and 32 per cent., whereas prevalence in the United Kingdom has continued to fall steadily from 33 per cent. in 1986 to 28 per cent. in 1992.
I have made it clear that the Government believe that the detailed regulation proposed in the Bill goes far beyond what is sensibly required regarding helpful information on tobacco products. It has been argued that, should the Bill become law, tobacco manufacturers might
Column 1292seek to substitute imported goods. As things stand, it would be impossible to impose the regulations proposed in the Bill on such imported products.
Although we should not overlook some of the practical and legal considerations against the Bill, the central point is that we already have a comprehensive strategy to ensure that both smokers and non-smokers understand the harm caused by tobacco products. It is unrealistic to believe that the Bill would significantly improve public awareness, let alone affect actual behaviour.
We have an excellent record on reducing smoking, but we are far from complacent. We must make further progress through price, health promotion initiatives and the steady and consistent application of effective and reasonable policies. I therefore regret to advise the House that the Government will not support the Bill, but we will continue to take a series of initiatives to discourage smoking. 1.28 pm