Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: I, too, am interested in defining the word ``advertisement''. I hope that the Minister will accept that the Opposition are not attempting to help the tobacco industry to promote its products. I would be glad—the Chancellor would not be—if people did not smoke as much and if we could find an effective way to reduce tobacco consumption. That was achieved under the previous Government, but unfortunately consumption is now increasing—I am not going to point fingers because I do not think that it is increasing because of any deliberate act of the Government—and we have to tackle the problem.

Anyone in advertising will tell you, Mr. Malins, that the best form of advertising is not the paid-for, full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph, or whatever other medium; it is getting a company's story in an editorial. The story may say that a product, which is milder and does not contain as much nicotine—does not have this or that—is better for the consumer. The Government must define what they mean by that sort of information. After all, an advertisement is information.

Joan Ruddock: What the hon. Gentleman describes is certainly applicable to the adult and well-educated population, but children are our greatest concern. They probably do not read the tabloids and they certainly do not read the broadsheets, so they are not going read that sort of editorial. They are influenced by imagery, which is what is at the heart of advertisements.

Mr. Bruce: I fully agree with the hon. Lady, but what imagery does one have to be careful about? In magazines for teenage girls, the imagery is of being slim and of tobacco suppressing appetite. One of the myths that is put about is that it is sexy to smoke cigarettes. That is not covered by the Bill. The definition that the Minister is trying to achieve would ban someone from putting an advertisement for tobacco in a girls' magazine.

The Minister and, I hope, all Committee members will know that a code of practice has been agreed by the tobacco companies. They have agreed not to advertise in girls' magazines—there have been no advertisements for a long time and there would be outrage if there were—and not to promote cigarettes in any way by trying to place information in a magazine.

The voluntary agreement has worked very well. I understand from the tobacco industry—I am no friend of that industry— that it has asked the Government what more it should do voluntarily. That would be the right way forward. My concern is that, if the tobacco industry is cut off and unable to promote its brands in that way, it will find all the routes around that restriction.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that the code of practice works as well as it could. Does he accept that tobacco companies advertise near schools, particularly in poorer areas, where there are huge advertisements, because young people are vulnerable? They get hooked on tobacco and find it hard to get off it. Advertisements have a pernicious effect. Does he agree that we should legislate to ensure that young people are not attracted to tobacco at such an early age, with all the attendant health implications, so that we do not have to spend so much getting them off it?

Mr. Bruce: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman because the code says that there should be no advertising within 200 m of a school. If he is particularly worried that young people will come out of school, walk 250 m and see something that will attract them, he is right to support the Bill, but surely the voluntary system is much better.

Of course, the tobacco industry did not ask the Conservative Government to allow it to make its advertising less effective. There were hard-nosed negotiations between the two. I suggest that the present Government should have similar hard-nosed negotiations and work out what should be done, although there is no need for anyone to pay £1 million to have negotiations with the Government.

Under the code of practice, people are not shown smoking in billboard advertisements. There is subtlety in the advertising of a brand: for example, in the slash down the poster advertising Silk Cut. Will the average 14, 15 or 16-year old say, ``Look at that poster, that lovely bit of silk with that slash down it—I must have a cigarette. I'm dying for one''? It may happen. However, one has to look at the consequences if the tobacco companies do not spend their money on such advertisements.

The Minister will understand the example of Viagra. I mention that not because she and her husband have any need of it, but because she is a health Minister and we are dealing with health issues. Viagra is restricted in the United Kingdom. It has to be obtained by prescription from a doctor.

What happened as soon as restrictions were put on Viagra? Anyone who has an e-mail account will know what I mean. Every e-mailer in the country seemed to be e-mailing us to say that we could obtain Viagra or the new non-Viagra natural product—[Interruption.]

Chairman: Order. The Committee is becoming a little rowdy. I can only speak for myself and say that I have received no such offers.

Mr. Bruce: I am obviously of an older generation than you, Mr. Malins. I did not mean to cause too much hilarity.

As Viagra is not available over the counter in the United Kingdom, many people in the United States started advertising. One can buy Viagra over the internet and have it delivered. I am sure that that breaks all sorts regulations. The importation of drugs in that way is almost certainly illegal. If we impose an absolutely watertight ban on tobacco advertising, the tobacco industry will spend its promotion budgets in different ways. That is not what I or the Government want them to do, and I am extremely concerned.

There is a very clear code of practice for the tobacco industry. It will not put any promotional material or advertisements on a computer, in software, or wherever. If we say to the tobacco manufacturers, ``Thanks, but we do not want your voluntary agreement any more,'' what would stop Sega making characters in their games tobacco smugglers or making tobacco products sexy and subtly promoting them to young people? That is the difference between defining what an advertisement is and what is banned—which, I contend, the Minister is not able to do—and a voluntary agreement.

The great thing about a voluntary agreement, is that when one tobacco manufacturer finds a way round the agreement and decides to go off in a different direction, the Minister can pick up the phone, talk to the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and say that what the manufacturer is doing is harmful and the Government are worried. When the previous Government and, I suspect, this Government have raised issues, the voluntary agreement has quickly been amended.

I understand that advertising near schools was raised with the tobacco manufacturers under the voluntary agreement. The agreement is not legislation, which can take three years to get through Parliament. I am told that within three months all advertisements near schools were removed. The voluntary system worked well. Hon. Members should remember that it is self-policing while we shall have to ask trading standards officers to rush out and police the Bill.

I hate to say this, but I was involved with Parents Against Tobacco—which campaigned against the sale of tobacco to under-16s. It was extraordinarily difficult to get local authorities to prosecute under existing laws people who were selling tobacco to people under 16 years of age. The voluntary agreements work much better.

Joan Ruddock: I am trying to envisage what the hon. Gentleman thinks can happen now with voluntary agreements. What can be added to voluntary agreements that will achieve the purposes of this Bill, with which he says that he is in agreement?

Mr. Bruce: One has to accept that people who sell a legal product are constantly looking to see whether they are losing their market share. The voluntary code does as much as we can to prevent manufacturers from recruiting new people to smoking or encouraging existing smokers to smoke more. Those are the things that the Government should be looking at.

11.45 am

We know that tobacco consumption has increased. The Government take that as more justification to do what they said that they would do in their election manifesto. The next election is almost upon us and they still have not done it.

Why has that happened? I think that most of us agree that tobacco taxation has reached a level at which it is hurting people financially, so the criminal element has recognised a great marketing opportunity. People make massive profits from importing tobacco, which is less risky than smuggling heroine, cocaine or marijuana. If they are caught smuggling tobacco, they just get a slap on the wrist. So people are taking their white vans over to the continent, filling them with tobacco and selling them at factory gates, pubs and the rest of it. Instead of buying the 20 cigarettes that they normally buy and making it last—I believe that people try to limit their consumption—they end up with a pack of 200, 400 or 600. They never run out because they are buying them in bulk.

When it is made illegal for people to promote tobacco products which are manufactured and marketed in the United Kingdom, tobacco producers in America or wherever, recognise a great marketing opportunity. The UK producers are not allowed to promote their own product through their own tobacconists, but foreign companies can promote their products and tell the consumers where they can buy them on the continent. They can encourage them to go over and bring back however many cigarettes they think that they need for a year. I do not know how quickly cigarettes start to go off, but people are going across to the continent and buying large amounts of tobacco.

Under the Bill, the only way to promote tobacco products will be to manufacture them overseas in order not to get clobbered for being a UK manufacturer. That will mean sacking all those people in Southampton, Nottingham or wherever else, and putting them on the dole —which is fine as far as the Labour party is concerned. The companies will then start promoting tobacco in a completely different way—overseas, via the internet, by direct mail or whatever. The Government cannot stop manufacturers from promoting tobacco products and getting their customers to go and collect them on the continent. We will see consumption of tobacco increasing.

The tobacconist in his shop selling legal tobacco knows that he can be raided at any time if he sells to under-16s. The drug dealers outside schools do not care about the law. Smugglers do not care either. They will be flogging off large packs or splitting them up into smaller sizes. It will be cheaper and easier for young people to buy cigarettes; £4-odd a packet is a lot of money and a turn-off for most youngsters. Their pocket money hopefully restricts the amount that they smoke.

I am keen to make sure that what we are doing is not counter-productive. I am not saying that the Bill will not work; I am saying that it will actually have the opposite effect to that which is intended. It all comes back to having a sensible code and knowing what the tobacco industry can do. A catch-all ban on tobacco advertisement will bounce back on the Government, because they are not defining ``advertisement'' correctly.

The Bill states that a tobacco product

    ``means a product consisting wholly or partly of tobacco and intended to be smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed''.

I am afraid that I do not know the brand names, but a number of the nicotine replacement products come in a little holder, like a cigarette holder, and people suck on them to get their nicotine. They still give the nice feeling of sucking that is, let us say, part of the bonding instinct. From my reading of the Bill, it will become illegal to promote such products. We know, of course, that products such as Nicorette patches are advertised on television, whereas tobacco advertising has been off the television for some time.

Nicorette patches are not prohibited by this particular definition, as they are to be stuck on, but it is possible that products, which may be promoted or even paid for by the Department of Health, will not be able to be promoted. One is worried that the Minister may be dragged off to prison because she has said, ``What a good product this is'', has promoted it and perhaps put out a glossy brochure, and has been caught by her own legislation. Later on we will discuss the advertising in more detail.

I had hoped to have here, but I did not want to spend the £4.20 to do so, a pack of House of Commons cigarettes. The brand name is ``House of Commons''. It is an advertisement for a cigarette. I just do not know whether we will have to change all our letterheads, and change the name of the building—we will have to call it ``the Palace of Westminster'' or whatever—because we are a brand name of a packet of cigarettes. We invite people to come to the House of Commons to look around or to have dinner. Often, hon. Members who host dinners here put House of Commons cigarettes on the table. Are we now to be branded as breaking the law? We will all end up in prison, because we are sending out on our letterheads the words ``House of Commons'', which is a brand name of a cigarette?

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