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Laura Moffatt (Crawley): I entirely accept that the House needs to be careful about evidence, but how can the hon. Gentleman possibly explain the fact that in countries where a ban was instituted there were immediate drops in the number of people smoking cigarettes, ranging from 35 per cent. to 15 per cent., and where there was no other influence on the decline?
Dr. Fox: It is genuinely difficult to look at the cultures within which the bans were imposed. In the United Kingdom, a big reduction was achieved by a mix of policies; along with the Netherlands, we were particularly successful in getting our smoking rates down through a variety of different policies. I am not arguing that restricting advertising would not have played a part; the Conservative Government thought that the code on advertising was part of the mix, but there is a difference between a voluntary code and a legal ban. The step proposed in the Bill needs to be balanced against important philosophical arguments.
Mr. Garnier: I want to underscore my hon. Friend's point that it is difficult to make estimates of the sort that the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) wants. In the other place, Lord Hunt said that the anticipated decline in the prevalence of smoking as a result of the Bill was somewhere in a range between 0 per cent. and 5 per cent; he could not be more specific. He plumped for 2.5 per cent, because that was halfway between 0 per cent. and 5 per cent, but it could have been 0 per cent., 0.3 per cent., 5 per cent. or some other figure.
Dr. Fox: I shall come to that argument in a moment, but in all honesty, I must tell my hon. and learned Friend that for many of us this is genuinely a difficult debate. On the one hand, we believe that only when it has no alternative should the state act to restrict individual freedom. On the other hand, I personally detest the effects of smoking.
As I was saying, if advertising restrictions have not changed, but smoking has increased, what is the cause? If we are to answer that question, we need to look at the real-terms cost of tobacco, which has been affected by the huge increase in smuggling. The National Audit Office report on tobacco smuggling made for grim reading, according to the Financial Times:
According to the Government's statistics, the proportion of smuggled cigarettes has gone up in each of the past five years, rising from 3 per cent. to 6 per cent, to 12 per cent., to 18 per cent., and finally 21 per cent., which tells an alarming story about the Government's failure to tackle the real problemthe fall in the true price of tobacco. Banning or further restricting advertising may be part of the solution, but only a small part. The Secretary of State said today that banning advertising would be at the "core" of the Government's programme on tobacco. However, if he cannot tackle smuggling and if the true price of tobacco in this country continues to fall, there will be a drive towards greater prevalence of smoking and increased consumption, so banning advertising should not be the core of the Government's policy.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that there is a higher prevalence of smoking among teenage girls because they are managing to buy cigarettes cheaply on the black market? That is nonsense.
Dr. Fox: In pubs throughout the country one can buy smuggled tobacco at lower and lower prices. If the price decreases, demand will increase. Why does the hon. Lady think consecutive Governments have continued to try to raise the price of tobacco, if not to make it less attractive and to reduce the market? She is surely not saying that she does not believe that there is a link between the price of tobacco and the level of consumptionor is she?
Miss Begg: The hon. Gentleman was talking about the growing prevalence of smoking among young teenage girls. I agree that that is where we find the higher incidence of tobacco smoking. Young teenage girls do not frequent pubs and they are not able to buy tobacco at pubs. There are other reasons for young girls smoking, and a major reason is that the advertising of tobacco makes it attractive to smoke. As I have said, there are other reasons, and I will go into them if I have the opportunity to do so.
Dr. Fox: I accept the hon. Lady's sincerity, but her intervention is hopelessly, if charmingly, naive. Young teenage girls do frequent pubs. Youngsters do not get tobacco for free. They have to buy it somewhere. The lower the price, the more accessible it becomes. The cheaper the price, the more young people will be able to afford it, and the higher the prevalence rates will become. To pretend that there is no link between price and consumption is not helpful to the debate. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to believe that there is a link, when he raised the duty on tobacco.
Dr. Fox: Smee concluded that in the areas that he had considered such an approach had worked in other countries. He said that there was conflicting evidence. He added that no clear assessment could be made of what would happen in the UK. At that time, we were already working against a background of having better reductions in our smoking prevalence and consumption than other countries. In the light of the evidence in the UK and elsewhere, it is difficult to come to clear conclusions.
There are fundamental questions to be faced. If we have no clear evidence that a ban will definitely produce a set benefit and yet we are going ahead in the face of arguments concerning the reduction of individual liberty and freedom of expression, can we not provide some safeguards that will make the balance of the argument more palatable?
In the previous Parliament, the Conservative party tried to introduce a clause into the Bill stating that if the Bill came into effect and did not produce any benefit at all in terms of reduced prevalence or consumptionin other words, if prevalence and consumption against trend rosethe Government would have to introduce new legislation in the House if they wanted to extend the ban. That is a perfectly rational and reasonable position and should be a no-risk policy for a Government who believe that the evidence is entirely on their side.
Why will the Government not apply such a clear scientific test to their proposals? On the face of it, that seems utterly unreasonable. It is partly because, as with everything else, the issue is not one of substance but one of presentationintellectually two-dimensional and enmeshed in its own tissue of lies and sleaze.
The idea that the Government wanted to bring the Bill back is nonsense. They were forced to bring it back because the private Member's Bill in the other place was successful. If the Government had wanted to bring the Bill back, they would have announced a space for it in
I wrote to the Secretary of State in the light of the recent revelations about the Formula 1 affair. We all know now that events were very different from the account given by that very straightforward kind of guy the Prime Minister. It might be helpful if I tell the House what I wrote to the Secretary of State. I now know that he reads his letters; it would be nice if he replied to them as well. I wrote:
This situation requires urgent clarification. When was the decision first taken to exempt Formula 1 from the Tobacco Advertising ban?"
Unfortunately the obvious absurdity of an exclusive exemption for Formula One did not occur to your department when it was proposed unilaterally and without consultation with the FIA in November 1997."
There is another scandal that has not been mentioned today and which should be mentionedthe scandal of what we as British taxpayers contribute to the EU's policy on tobacco growing. It is scandalous that the European Union spends £600 million supporting tobacco growing£600 million of taxpayers' money, including ours. Of the tobacco grown, under the EU's policy, a third is burned, a third goes into the European tobacco market, and appallingly and shamefully, the remainder is exported to third-world countries. That is EU cash-for-cancer money, and we are paying it.
There is no doubt that the Government will get their Billor, rather, someone else's Billbecause they have the numbers and the time to do so, and there is also no doubt that we will get many more initiatives. However, I say to the Government that just as a No. 10 briefing about fining feckless parents is supposed to make us think that they are tackling crime, the Bill is a diversion from the real job of tackling smuggling and making tobacco more expensive in real terms. Tobacco smuggling is, to borrow a phrase, swamping this country. This Government's approach simply will not do.