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6.35 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I would like to agree with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), as the sincerity with which he argues his case is appealing, but I fear that in some key respects his argument is flawed.

The Bill is in keeping with a Government policy towards tobacco that is essentially discredited. The Government have certainly increased spending on education and programmes for quitting smoking, but their excessive tax policy, predictably and perversely, is having precisely the opposite effect. They are presiding over an increase in tobacco consumption as a result of smuggling. Thousands of legitimate retail businesses have been seriously affected by the trend, and now we have another misconceived measure that will not achieve what its supporters claim it will.

Supporters of the Bill claim that it will reduce tobacco consumption. There is a danger of losing sight of the market reality that, in the United Kingdom, tobacco companies are competing ferociously against one another in a diminishing legal market. The Government claim in the explanatory notes that the Bill will reduce tobacco consumption by 2.5 per cent. We still await the firm evidence for that anticipated reduction.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley and others have placed great emphasis on the 1992 Smee report. As I understand it, they have correctly analysed, interpreted and summarised its findings, but they have overlooked the fact that subsequent surveys have shown that many of its findings were fundamentally flawed, mainly because they were incompatible with proven consumption trends.

The hon. Gentleman referred, fleetingly, to four recent reports. Perhaps he can tell me after this debate what they are--I would like to read them. In return, I advise him to consult the 1993 Stewart surveys, which said that they did not find

I refer him also to the 1996 KPMG report, which concluded that

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Perhaps the key point in the KPMG report is that, in two of the countries that Smee had studied, it found the reverse effect: in Italy and Norway, consumption had increased following the introduction of a ban.

Sir Peter Emery: Is it not the case that the KPMG survey was financed by the tobacco industry?

Mr. Hunter: I cannot answer that question, but if my right hon. Friend is telling me that that is so, clearly I accept what he says.

The Government claim that the Bill will reduce smoking by children, but the 1990 report of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, "Why Children Start Smoking", found that advertising had no significant influence, and the McDonald surveys of 1993 concluded:

If we want to stop children smoking--I am one who does--we must recognise that the most effective way is to limit their access to cigarettes by making the laws prohibiting under-age sales more effective; implementing education programmes designed to discourage children from buying cigarettes and encourage adults to exercise more responsibility; and by clamping down on the illicit importation of cigarettes. I acknowledge that the Government have taken considerable steps in that regard but one has only to go to some outlets, such as two in my constituency and one or two in neighbouring Reading, to see that there is no visible slow-down of the importation of these smuggled goods.

Mr. Bermingham: I will declare my interest later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I catch your eye. In the meantime, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be a start if we persuaded tobacco companies not to export British- made cigarettes with British-made health warnings to such places as Benidorm from where they promptly come back in the form of British cigarettes with a British health warning? If the health warnings on those cigarettes were in a foreign language, it would enable people to detect them more easily as they came into the country.

Mr. Hunter: If I follow the hon. Gentleman correctly, and sly practices of that nature are being undertaken, of course they are to be condemned. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

There is a second reason why the Bill may not achieve its objectives and may actually result in an increase in tobacco consumption. Price is the single most important determinant of total tobacco consumption. The Government acknowledge that, via their policy of increasing excise as a means of reducing overall consumption. However, if manufacturers cannot advertise, the only means by which they will be able to compete will be through distribution and price war. Just as consumption falls when prices rise, so consumption will rise when prices fall. If further proof of the effect of price is needed, one has only to look at the current black market in cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.

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Thirdly, it is right to stress that the Bill infringes fundamental freedoms. It is not against the law in this country to manufacture or import tobacco products, to sell tobacco products--except to children under 16--or to buy and smoke tobacco products. A tolerant society that respects minority interests should not ban things simply because some people disapprove of the informed personal choice made by others. The imposition of a statutory ban on advertising a product that is legally available by retail sale to adults is unprecedented.

Mr. Barron: I invite the hon. Gentleman to give his opinion. Given that advertising cigarettes on television has been effectively banned in this country--whether on a statutory or voluntary basis--since 1964, does he believe that only that ban should be enshrined in law and nothing else, and is his a principled position; or is he not happy with any of the restrictions on promoting tobacco that there have been over the years?

Mr. Hunter: I am extremely happy, and I believe that the strategy followed by the previous Government was working. We had a combination of education programmes and a controlled increase in taxation. The scale of smuggled cigarette products and rolling tobacco had not reached current levels, and there was a reduction in smoking. That strategy, of which a voluntary advertising code was an essential feature, worked.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: The hon. Gentleman talks about the rights of minorities. Which particular minorities will be affected by a ban on advertising? Is he talking about British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco or some other hard-pressed minority?

Mr. Hunter: I will answer that question very directly. The Bill offends against the fundamental principle of freedom of speech. It inhibits the freedom of tobacco companies to inform the public about their goods and the freedom of the public to receive information on products. The reality of that is not changed by the Secretary of State's view that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights and with fundamental freedoms.

Mr. Barron: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hunter: Not at the moment. The Secretary of State's statement is only an opinion and has no strict legal effect.

Unpopular though this view may be, I argue that the Bill is not simply without public benefit but will inflict damage, because it is counter, and will be proved to be counter, to its objectives. It treats fundamental freedoms, enshrined in the European convention on human rights, with derision. This is an ugly Bill.

6.45 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I want to discuss some of the features of the research paper and to give examples of the effect of smoking on the people of my constituency, Anniesland.

I am an asthma sufferer; I carry an inhaler with me at all times. My daughter also suffers from asthma, so I think that I understand what passive smoking does to someone

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like me. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) said that people have rights when it comes to smoking. I have rights as an individual who is affected by passive smoking, and I demand that those rights are upheld so that I am not affected by someone else's carelessness or thoughtlessness.

Tobacco advertising and sponsorship of media events are not a problem to some, as we have seen from the contributions of some Conservative Members. However, we are the elected representatives of the people of this country and we must protect them even when they do not want to be protected.

I want to look at the effect that advertising has on the young in particular. Direct advertising--on billboards, in publications and in shops--provides general advertising of tobacco brands. Some people, such as the hon. Member for Basingstoke, would say that that is quite acceptable. However, the point is that a killer drug is being advertised--tobacco kills people.

Indirect advertising--or hero worshipping, as I call it--is much more sinister. We were talking earlier about Formula 1. Young people would love to drive those racing cars. Actors who smoke a particular brand on movie screens influence young people to be like them--to get the girl, to get the boy, to be successful, to be cool. Subliminal advertising is perhaps the most sinister of all. With product placement, actors smoke a particular brand, with the pack placed in front of the camera to show the brand name. For example, James Bond has his Turkish cigarettes. There are many other examples, but I am not going to name those brands.

Smoking is anything but cool. The results of smoking are many. People need to clean their clothes because they smell and the people sitting next to them, who do not smoke, also have to clean their clothes. Smoking discolours teeth and hands; and it makes smokers ill, it makes others ill, and it eventually kills.

Some 120,000 people in the UK die from smoking each year, and that is too many. My constituency is part of Glasgow, which has one of the highest percentages--well above the national average--of people who die from smoking-related illnesses.

If reasons were needed to ban advertising, we need only look at the number of children aged between 11 and 15 who were smoking regularly in England in 1996. The figure was 390,000. In 1998, 31 per cent. of all children aged between 16 and 19 smoked. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health may have more up-to-date figures.

Anyone who has watched a person die of lung cancer knows why we need to protect the young and vulnerable in our society. My father-in-law and his wife both died from lung cancer within six weeks of one another--if ever anything advertised why not to smoke, it would be watching someone fade away and die from cancer.

Advertisers show smoking as relaxing and calming, and as something that makes people successful. The truth is that smoking costs the taxpayer millions of pounds in health care. In 1997, we spent £2,756,000 on anti- smoking advertising alone. Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell us the health care costs of smoking? How many days are lost? The cost must run into billions of pounds.

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