Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: It is normal practice when inviting people to dinner in the course of any business, not only tobacco businesses, that at the end of the meal, someone comes round and asks whether one would like a brandy. At the same time, free cigars are offered. Although it can be argued that the individual is not attempting to promote the tobacco industry generally, he is promoting the smoking of cigars. The first time that the majority of people smoke a cigar is when they are given a free one. I thought that the clause was simply in place to catch the tobacco industry, but it will catch every business man who offers cigars to a group of people around a table.

Mrs. Spelman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had not thought of such an example. In those circumstances, business men could be thought of as promoting a tobacco product to their clients. Will the Minister clarify the position? I was about to withdraw the amendment, but I shall hold back from doing so until I have heard what she has to say. Such a serious problem illustrates our difficulty, in that we are talking in practical terms about changing the habits of a lifetime. Hitherto, it has been customary for people, particularly in the business community, to hand out tobacco products. Given that they may not be intimately versed in the details of the Bill, they may need considerable warning about what they may or may not do in respect of corporate entertainment and the provision of tobacco products. Will the Minister give us some guidance on that?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Member for Meriden cited the example of someone who handed out a wrapped product and did not know what was inside the wrapping. That person clearly has a defence under clause 8(4). A person engaged in one-off helping at an event, even if he or she were paid, would be covered by the phrase ``in the course of a business''. It has a repetitive element to it and would involve an on-going process. However, I shall be happy to return to the matter later in our proceedings.

The hon. Member for South Dorset referred to the handing out of cigars at the end of a meal or as part of an entertainment. We want to stop the giving away of products or coupons for the purpose of promoting a tobacco product. We want to stop free gifts being handed out for the purpose of promoting tobacco products and encouraging people to buy them. Let us suppose that such a strategy includes making a big fuss about a particular cigar or cigarette; mention is made of how wonderful they are and details are given about where such products can be obtained—such as at the shop down the road for half price. That is a promotion strategy. However, if cigars are handed out at the end of a meal to those who want to smoke them, that process is not about the promotion or sale of tobacco products.

The purpose of the clause is clear. It is about stopping the promotion of tobacco products through free distribution, which will be undertaken unless we ensure that it cannot be. We know of many instances of free distribution in pubs, clubs and student union bars; they are about the promotion of tobacco products and trying to persuade students, for example, to smoke particular brands. There was a promotion of tobacco products at Hull university soon after no smoking day. We want to create an offence under the Bill and we are right to do so.

Mr. Ian Bruce: The clause is badly worded. We know what the Minister is going for; she is trying to say that it is an offence for a tobacco company to give away free tobacco products or anything to promote them. We understand that that is the purpose of the Bill, but the clause clearly catches someone providing free tobacco at the end of a meal, or indeed during the meal, in the pursuit of his business, to make the guests feel good about him. It may not be part of that individual's business to promote tobacco, but the activity does have the effect of promoting tobacco.

I ask the Minister to consider the situation of the Commons and Lords pipe and cigar smokers club. We assume that promotional activity within that club, which I think is done by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association will be illegal. The association provides free tobacco. Has the Minister considered the implications to freedom of access to Members of Parliament, and will she undertake to go away and consider that point to ensure that she is not catching people whom she does not intend to catch?

Mrs. Spelman: I am glad that we extended this debate a little, and I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she will go away and consider the wording ``in the course of a business'', because we raised genuine concerns. I am still not completely satisfied that the position of the casual employee, who may do waitressing and coat-taking plus distribution of corporate hospitality gifts on a weekly basis, is clear. As I explained, if wrapped gifts started to be distributed, it might be that a certain number of guests start unwrapping them and the employee would at that point realise, ``God forbid, it contains a tobacco product.'' If he is well versed in the law, he has to go to his supervisor and say, ``I'm really sorry, you know. I can't carry on doing what you've asked me to do this evening. I can't do this job and I'll have to pass up my earnings unless you can find me another task, because it's an offence for me to distribute this tobacco product.'' So we are not clear that we are protecting those who need properly to be protected while catching those who need properly to be called to account. The business community needs a warning. It is a very grey area.

If we asked some cigar lovers how they first started smoking cigars, we just might find people who said, ``I was offered a cigar at a corporate dinner and I didn't think it was the kind of thing I would enjoy smoking, but it has become one of my favourite habits.'' That is not beyond the realms of imagination. As to particular brands, businesses doing corporate entertaining are usually anxious to give guests a top-quality product, so quite possibly the gift would bear the brand name of one of the very best cigars. It remains a very grey area.

I said earlier that I would be willing to withdraw the amendment, and I am willing to do so if the Minister is willing to have another look at this. However, we must also keep repeating that, although Labour Members may try to raise themselves up as the champions of public health and put the Opposition down as not being so, that is factually not true. We share exactly the same objective of reducing smoking prevalence in this country, and that has been said on numerous occasions. Our objective is perfectly clear, but we try also to bring a degree of fairness and common sense to the Bill's drafting. It is certainly part of the Opposition's role to protect innocent people who are caught by the definition of an offence under the Bill. I still think that the clause is unclear, but I am willing to withdraw the amendment if the Minister will look again at its wording.

12.30 pm

Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Lady's decision to withdraw the amendment. I want to add two quick points of clarification. It is not my understanding that the situations that she has described would be caught by the Bill, but I will look again at the phrasing. However, the wording in her amendment is not acceptable, because it would not allow the foreign owner to be prosecuted or anyone else to be held responsible for what we have described.

As for the Lords and Commons pipe and cigar smokers club, the idea that anything in the Bill would prevent access to Members of Parliament is nonsense. Any tobacco company can gain access to Members of Parliament, talk to them as much as individual Members will let them, and can make their points as they have always been able to. I was not sure whether the hon. Member for South Dorset was suggesting that there should be a special exemption for hon. Members so that companies could offer them free products and coupons that were not available to other members of the public. That would probably be a little unacceptable.

Mr. Barron: I remind my hon. Friend that the Lords and Commons pipe and cigar smokers club is not an all-party group. [Hon. Members: ``It is!''] It is not; it is denied to most hon. Members. It is a front for the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, set up to influence legislators.

Yvette Cooper: I was not aware of that. I hope that, if the tobacco companies engage heavily in providing free promotional goods and coupons, that is declared in the Register of Members' Interests, as appropriate. There can be no justification for treating Members of Parliament differently. Clearly, the Government do not want to permit the promotion of tobacco by means of free products and coupons.

The hon. Member for Meriden said that Conservative Members were just as concerned as the Government are about public health. I accept that many of her amendments have been constructive, and that we have had a helpful discussion on many of the issues. I remind her, however, that the Conservative party voted against Second Reading of the Bill and rejected a ban on tobacco advertising on principle. So to get on her high horse about public health is not appropriate. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. The Committee is becoming just a little too noisy for my taste.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 3, line 39, after `any', insert `tobacco'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 12, in page 4, line 15, leave out from `a' to end of line 16 and insert `tobacco product'.

No. 13, in page 4, line 18, after `making', insert `tobacco'.

Mrs. Spelman: The amendments deal with the main body of the subject of coupons, but I cannot let the Minister get away with her last remarks. She knows well how reasoned amendments work on Second Reading and there was an objection in principle to a ban on tobacco advertising. We said at the start of our deliberations that none of the measures would be effective while smuggled tobacco products came in through the floodgates.

The amendments focus on the coupon system in relation to the supply of tobacco products. They pick up on an issue that was raised legitimately on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and are designed to warn the Government of the potential adverse consequences of the Bill as it is crafted at the moment. I hope that the Government have thought them through.

In our view, tobacco companies that give away products that are not tobacco products or coupons for non-tobacco products should not necessarily be penalised. Many tobacco companies give away coupons to existing customers when they buy tobacco products, which they can then collect and exchange for high-quality items such as limited edition prints, photographs or tobacco accessories. Coupons can be used for silver cigar boxes, which may or may not bear the name of a cigarette or other tobacco product.

I related earlier the historical practice of children collecting football coupons. That did not give rise to children smoking tobacco; usually an adult gave the football coupons to children, or sometimes kept them themselves, because cards about successful footballers of the day became desirable to collect. It is not common sense to say that non-smokers, especially children, are encouraged to take up smoking because when they buy a packet of cigarettes they get a coupon for a bone china mug or a set of free wine glasses. That is not realistic. It is not what happens in practice.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale pointed out, the loss of coupons for non-tobacco products will have an impact on the industries that produce those non-tobacco products. It seems to me that the Government have a remarkably deaf ear to manufacturing. That is certainly the view in my constituency in the west midlands. The Government seem to believe that if one cannot make a profit in manufacturing one must get out of it and into something else. However, that is a difficult transition to make if one is a bone china manufacturer in the Potteries. The clause will have an impact on manufacturers of non-tobacco products, which are already suffering significant difficulties.

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Prepared 6 February 2001