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9.21 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I had better declare my interest straight away as possibly the only person to take part in the debate who retails tobacco products. I speak with a lot of experience, as my grandfather started the business in the 1920s, my father took it over and I have worked in it for many years.

It is always a delight to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). If he was as full of common sense as he was of passion, we might have made progress on the issue. At least my heart is warmed by the fact that he and the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) have spoken up on behalf of businesses just like mine and wish to protect our businesses by introducing the Bill and by cracking down on smuggling.

My father died of cancer at the age of 59. He was a 40 to 60-a-day man and, as a child, I remember him smoking good old Woodbines, Capstan, Players and Senior Service. I do not think he could have smoked stronger cigarettes. Only when he was dying did he switch brands to Silk Cut and eventually gave up smoking altogether. Sadly, however, it was all too late. I come to this argument not only as someone who now owns a business and retails what is a legal product. I would like to see an enormous reduction in the consumption of tobacco, but, even if the Government banned tobacco, we would not attain zero consumption in this country.

We ought to look carefully at the arguments about how to ban tobacco consumption and ask whether we will be able to do that by means of the Bill. My answer is that we will not. However, I urge the Government to consider retailers when introducing any regulations under the Bill, and to use common sense. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) suggested that everything

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should be served behind shutters--almost under- the-counter stuff. I ask him to spend a day with his local newsagent or tobacconist and see how practical his proposal is then. It is simply not realistic, and we need realistic regulations. I am sure that tobacconists, newsagents and retailers will help whenever they can, especially to get across the message about just how damaging cigarette and tobacco consumption generally is. That will not damage my business too much, and it will not damage many other businesses. The exception is perhaps the specialist tobacconist, of which this country has far too few these days.

There has been a general decline in consumption, but also in the percentage of profit that is made on the price of cigarettes. Tobacconists cannot rely on tobacco these days; it is on other products that they make a lot of money. When people give up cigarettes, they tend to go on to confectionery pretty sharply. In percentage profit terms, more money is made on a quarter of sweets--we do not want any of that metric nonsense here--than on a packet of cigarettes, so I am sure that other avenues will be found.

The problem is how to get the message across. I am sure that peer pressure influences many youngsters. Advertising will not have such an influence. Young people will not open their newspapers, look at advertisements and say, "Ah yes, I must go out and buy some Silk Cut or Marlboro or whatever". Much of the current advertising seeks to entice people to change brands. A number of companies, many of which are international, are involved in the cigarette and tobacco business, and they want to promote their brands in whatever way they can.

Mr. Swayne: Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that tobacco manufacturers produce a number of brands that they market heavily to compete against other brands of their own? The reason for that is precisely the same as that which makes a toothpaste manufacturer use such marketing: it is a means of discouraging new entrants into the market who will be deterred by high marketing costs, but not by low production costs. That is the reason for such behaviour.

Mr. Evans: I agree with my hon. Friend. There are a number of brands that we call own brands, of which Red Band is the one that my business sells. Such brands are sold on price, as many people on limited incomes go for the cheapest cigarette, whatever it happens to be. I suspect that the price of many brands will be reduced if advertising goes out of the window. There will be price competition, but the legitimate tobacco price is extremely high. Indeed, I do not know how anybody can afford to smoke these days, it is so expensive. A lot of price cutting will occur if we ban advertising, as that will be tobacco companies' only means of inducing consumers to buy their products.

I gave the hon. Member for Chorley an example involving hand-rolling tobacco. Some time ago, a brand that was not advertised at all in this country achieved a huge share of the market because of the enormous amount of smuggling that was occurring. The two well-known tobaccos are Golden Virginia and Old Holborn: this one came from nowhere. About a third of customers were smoking a hand-rolling tobacco of which I had never

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heard, as it had never been advertised and was never available from my wholesaler. People were buying it merely on the basis of price.

There are two prongs to my attack. I shall mention them later, but the Government need to adopt those suggestions more than to introduce the Bill. I believe that the Bill is probably mere political correctness. That is what it is all about. I am sure that the Government are well intentioned, but I do not think that the Bill will have any effect. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I think that the warning displayed on tobacco products and advertisements is far more persuasive than the advertisements themselves. A tobacco company can put anything into advertisements. One has to look long and hard at some of them before one can work out what they are promoting and what brand they involve. It is likely to be the warning underneath an advertisement that tells people that it relates to a tobacco product. That is far more persuasive to me than anything else.

We know that, even if we ban advertising, introduce proper education and stop smuggling, it will not mean that everybody gives up. Indeed, although it is beyond belief, there are nurses and doctors who smoke.

Mr. Mackinlay: They want to give up.

Mr. Evans: I suspect that everybody who smokes wants to give up. I do not know anybody who does not smoke who wants to start. I have not spoken to anybody who says, "I don't smoke, but I'd love to take it up some day." Of course, it happens the other way around, and smokers are all looking for an excuse or reason to give up. Smoking is addictive, and there are nurses and doctors who see and live with the consequences every day who continue to do it.

Speaking as a retailer, I believe that the measure will have no impact. However, education will have an effect. As vice-chairman of the all-party drugs misuse group, I believe that we should do more to educate on all substance abuse--that covers tobacco. We should consider a good programme of research and education for our youngsters. We cannot start too early; we should ram home the message time and again. I have heard people suggest that smoking is cool. However, proper education can convey the message that it is unattractive.

We should also act on smuggling. The price of cigarettes is a more important factor than others. There must be a reason for the increase in smoking in this country since 1996. I believe that it is due to the price mechanism. In my business, we are selling more hand-rolling tobacco papers than ever. However, sales of hand-rolling tobacco have almost dried up; we are hardly selling any. My business is not unique because that is happening throughout the country.

My business is in Swansea, and although the tobacco arrives at our ports, it gets to wherever there is a market. That happens because of prices. Will the Government consider the measures that they should take? The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) mentioned indicative levels. People can bring in thousands of cigarettes and claim that they are for their use. That is unrealistic. The Government should reconsider the measures that are being introduced to clamp down on smuggling. The illicit trade exists; it has no health warnings and no bans on sales to under-16s. The only consideration is how to make a quick buck, and the illicit trade does that wherever possible.

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9.31 pm

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I strongly support the Bill and I wish that it had been introduced many years ago. The measure should go further; for example, the deadlines should be brought forward. Additional measures should be introduced--perhaps not in the Bill--to counter the attractions of smoking, especially to the young.

I accept that advertising is about market share, but it is also about suggesting that smoking is respectable, cool and stylish. When I was young, I smoked 35 cigarettes a day. I was foolish then; perhaps I have learned a little wisdom in the 32 years since I gave up. I have also become much richer. I estimate that I have not spent £50,000 on cigarettes. I use that sum when I speak to young people to try and persuade them not to smoke. The financial argument is persuasive.

Cigarette smoking is strongly and quickly addictive. Smuggling is about encouraging a loss leader. The Government and the retailers, not the tobacco companies, make the loss. The idea is to get people addicted: catch them young, get them hooked and sell to them for the rest of their lives. I found it difficult to give up. Perhaps young people believe that they can give up smoking. However, I know many people of my age who desperately want to give up but cannot because the addiction is too strong.

Addiction means that there is no free market. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to the market often. However, markets depend on elasticity of demand, which can be reduced by making a product addictive. People are prepared to pay more for the same quantity because they have to have the drug.

Young people and poorer people smoke more cigarettes than others. Their health is damaged in other ways, because they spend perhaps less on good food, and on going to the swimming pool and activities that would make life healthier, more enjoyable and possibly longer.

I support the Opposition's view that we must have stronger measures to control smuggling, not only to benefit retailers but to prevent young people from buying cheap tobacco and becoming addicted. Smuggling also creates an atmosphere of petty criminality. It is not good for society when people get into the habit of effectively breaking the law daily. We should have stricter controls on the smuggling not only of cigarettes but of alcohol and illicit drugs. I emphasise that point, which I have made in writing to Ministers several times.

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