Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Is not this legislation the culmination of measures introduced during the Thatcher Administration, when she chose to ban tobacco advertising on radio and television because of the clear link between advertising and not only buying particular brands, but taking up smoking in the first place? Surely what is right for Margaret Thatcher should be right for this House.

Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman made one good point and then, if I may say so, one less good one. It is pretty difficult to substantiate the case for the continuity between this legislation and what went before, not least because, as he must be painfully aware, when his party was in office it resisted precisely this sort of measure. However, he was right to point to the clear link between

29 Apr 2002 : Column 687

tobacco advertising and tobacco consumption. Why on earth do right hon. and hon. Members think that tobacco companies bother to spend £100 million a year on advertising? Clearly it is not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) rose

Mr. Milburn: The story from the industry has always been that mass advertising has nothing to do with increasing consumption, and still less with persuading children or young teenagers to start smoking. The industry claims that it is only about maintaining brand loyalty. Of course, until relatively recently, it is precisely those companies that were denying that there was any link whatever between cigarette consumption and cancer. Indeed, some even promoted the life-enhancing qualities of tobacco consumption. Even today, so many years after the original research was published in this country, some companies still deny that passive smoking is dangerous, while others refuse to publish the additives that they put in their cigarettes. The evidence, however, suggests that tobacco advertising is not neutral in its impact; it is all about recruiting more new smokers. As the former chairman of the board of one advertising company who has had the pleasure of working for the tobacco firms so clearly put it:

The facts are obvious enough to most people: every year the tobacco industry in this country has to replace the 120,000 customers who are killed through the consumption of its products. The target market is young smokers—including, sad to say, children. Why? Because fully 83 per cent. of smokers start before they are 20 years old. Today's teenager is tomorrow's regular smoker, and therefore tomorrow's regular consumer. The cigarette brands smoked most by children are also those that are most heavily advertised.

The polite fiction behind the tobacco industry's advertising campaigns has been exposed by recent research: for example, we have learned that in Canada, Imperial Tobacco's marketing plan in the late 1980s explicitly involved targeting what it called "men" aged 12 to 17, and "women" aged 12 to 34. Research has proved that the most commonly remembered brands, even among children as young as 11, are the most heavily advertised.

Further research, published in the British Medical Journal in 1993, concluded that Embassy Regal's "Reg" campaign

Research from Manchester university found that

We should be clear about the fact that tobacco advertising and sponsorship act as a recruiting sergeant for children and young teenagers to start the tobacco habit.

29 Apr 2002 : Column 688

Although tobacco consumption by adults has been falling for many years, there was a steady increase among children aged 11 to 15 between 1988 and 1996—precisely when the so-called voluntary ban started. I am pleased to tell the House that that trend has started to reverse in recent years, and that there has been a drop from 13 to 10 per cent. of the age group since 1996. There can be little doubt, however, that tobacco advertising preys on teenagers who are susceptible to its corrosive and often covert portrayal of smoking as somehow glamorous and grown-up.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Milburn: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once.

The industry's response to the concerns expressed has been at best inadequate and at worst cynical. As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), the proposal not to site billboards advertising tobacco products within 100 m of schools is practically worthless. It is to safeguard children and generations yet to come that the ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship is so necessary.

Some have argued that it is unfair to ban the advertising of a legal product. As I said at the outset, I happen to believe that people have a right to choose to smoke, and it can be argued that when consumers start smoking, they are making a choice. However, because nicotine is so enormously addictive—as the Royal College of Physicians and others have testified—it is much harder for smokers to exercise an equivalent freedom of choice to give up.

Tobacco advertising and sponsorship seek to get more people to smoke by conveying the idea that smoking is glamorous, when in fact it is dangerous, and that it enhances the quality of life, when in fact it serves to shorten people's lives.

Given the impact that we all acknowledge smoking has on public health, I believe that we in Government have a responsibility to act. We have a duty to inform, so that if people want to smoke they do so on an informed basis, not on the basis of advertising hype. The Government also owe a duty to the wider community, to help smokers give up and to protect children from ever starting. That is what the Bill seeks to do.

The opponents of the Bill argue that there is insufficient evidence that the ban would reduce tobacco consumption.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Before the Secretary of State moves on to his next point, I want to ask about—[Interruption.] I wonder whether the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) could desist from speaking for a moment. My interest has been clearly declared in the Order Paper, Madam Deputy Speaker, and when I can catch your eye I shall explain it fully. However, for the moment I want to ask the Secretary of State a question of a legal nature, concerning the statement on the front page of the Bill about section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Secretaries of State and Ministers often rubber-stamp Bills with the section 19(1) statement, but I should like the Secretary of State to explain his understanding of the articles of the European convention on human rights, which he must have considered, and which he says are

29 Apr 2002 : Column 689

not affected by this legislation. Did he listen to, or read a transcript of a recent edition of the Radio 4 programme "Unreliable Evidence", in which an American supreme court judge said that the Bill would be struck down under United States law, and in which an English High Court—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman could conclude his point.

Mr. Garnier: I would be a little quicker if I were not interrupted. During that programme, an English High Court judge also said, contrary to the 19(1) statement, that it is highly arguable that the Bill does not comply with the convention. I should be grateful for the Secretary of State's views on those points.

Mr. Milburn: The hon. and learned Gentleman may or may not be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights reported on the Bill on 19 December. It made several proposals and asked us to provide substantive evidence concerning the Bill's compatibility with the European convention on human rights. We have done so in respect of a number of issues, such as evidence, entitlement to compensation and brand sharing. I am happy to expand if the hon. and learned Gentleman would like me to do so. I know that several concerns have been raised—not least in the other place—about human rights issues, but I am satisfied that the Bill does comply with human rights legislation.

Richard Ottaway: May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of sport sponsorship, on which I tried to intervene? On 15 April, he will have received a letter from the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, which runs motor sport across the globe. It states that

It points out that, so far as grand prix races in this country are concerned, such advertisements are permitted at only four track-side billboards. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but the letter is from the FIA itself. In the light of it, why is he extending the ban to 2006, and why does the Bill not cover motor racing?

Next Section

IndexHome Page