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21 Oct 2002 : Column 54—continued

Mr. Hopkins: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such actions are not too distant from those of heroin peddlers who try to get people addicted? They often target the mentally ill. Perhaps tobacco manufacturers do not see themselves in that light, but there is a parallel.

5.30 pm

Pete Wishart: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman; he makes a very good point. Tobacco companies sending their representatives into pubs where young people congregate constitutes a shameless attempt to flaunt their product, and I am thankful that the Bill will now become law and that that practice will come to an end. That cannot happen a day too soon.

The Conservatives see the new clause as a means of considering the deficiencies of the Bill. They could have used it as a useful way of looking at the progress of the legislation and of ensuring that it remained rigorous. The only thing that seems to concern them in the new clause is the market shares of the different participants in the tobacco industry. I have to say that I could not give a fig about the market shares of those participants; I hope that they fall into ruin and are unable to peddle their poisonous products any longer. I am concerned only about how they might try to get round the legislation and exploit potential loopholes that might be uncovered.

There should be a rolling study of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, but it should be carried out in conjunction with tackling the environment in which so many young people are becoming hooked on smoking. I also agree with the comment made earlier that this should be seen as part of a process and not just a one-off event. We have to try to challenge the culture that exists among young people between the ages of 12 and 17. That is the real danger period for young people who become hooked on cigarettes. This is perhaps even more important now, in the light of the recent evidence showing an increased prevalence of breast cancer among women who smoked as girls.

The tobacco industry will try to circumvent this new legislation. When they are losing hundreds of smokers a day, they need new recruits and they will attempt to find

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them. We must remain vigilant and, if necessary, revisit the legislation if loopholes appear, but not under the arrangements proposed in the new clause. I therefore urge hon. Members to vote against it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): This is my first opportunity to participate in proceedings on the Bill, and I am delighted to be able to do so. I pay tribute to my predecessor as Minister of Public Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for the way in which she steered the Bill through Committee. She did an incredible amount of preparatory work for it, and I hope that we shall finally get a result today.

I have some sympathy with the motivation behind new clause 2. We shall certainly not be able to sit back when the Bill is on the statute book. As the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) has just pointed out, tobacco companies may invest considerable resources and ingenuity in trying to redirect some of the #130 million that they spend every year on advertising their products in this country.

I support evidence-based policy making, but it is odd to put such a commitment to evaluation in a Bill as a statutory obligation. That is simply not necessary. The Government can already commission such studies, and to put that requirement into legislation would reduce their flexibility over what they might cover and how often they were done. I think that it was the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) who pointed out that such evidence and research is highly complex and difficult to obtain. We are not simply dealing with quantifiable research: this is about behaviour change.

Richard Ottaway: In my intervention on the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), I brought up the weakness in clause 10, which relates to sponsorship agreements and is vague, woolly, ambiguous and unclear. How is that sort of thing going to be flushed out? Surely a body such as that we propose would flush the problems out and bring them into the open.

Ms Blears: I do not accept that the provisions on sponsorship are woolly or ambiguous. We have the provisions in the Bill and we are also consulting—as I speak—on the sponsorship transitional provisions. I think that they are extremely clear, and I commend the consultation document to the hon. Gentleman, if he has not already read it.

Richard Ottaway: If the Minister is saying that the provisions are clear and unambiguous, will she tell me whether they apply to sponsorship agreements within the trade between suppliers and retailers?

Ms Blears: Certainly. Whether or not the provisions apply to agreements will depend on the terms of the agreements.

Richard Ottaway: That is rather woolly.

Ms Blears: It is not woolly. I am saying to the hon. Gentleman that whether the agreements are caught by

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the legislation will depend on whether they fall within the definition in the Bill and the regulations. He knows that it is part of the normal course of legislation that we define something, and whether it falls within that definition is a matter for the legislation and, ultimately, the courts.

I know that, in some countries, wholesalers pay retailers to ensure that products are displayed prominently, perhaps even above those of their rivals in certain circumstances. If that were a sponsorship agreement in that the effect was to promote a tobacco product, it might well fall foul of the sponsorship provisions. The sponsorship provisions are clear. I do not think that they are woolly. If the effect is that companies are paying to promote tobacco products to the public, we will want to prohibit that. If such agreements fall into that category, we will prohibit them.

We have reserve powers in the Bill to introduce regulations on display. We went into that at great length in Committee. If a display is abused to a point at which it becomes an overt representation of the goods, we may have to use such powers.

Subsection (2) of the new clause suggests that there should be an annual report. If that requirement were in the Bill, however, it might become burdensome after 10 years. We might have conclusive results during that period. We need flexibility, not simply to respond to the ban and to ensure that the right sort of research is taking place, but so that we can respond to new needs for research in other areas as they arise. Much of the legislation has been framed to ensure that it is fluid enough to react to developments as they happen. The history of the action of tobacco companies shows that they are ingenious in finding other ways of promoting their product, so it is important for us to have flexibility in relation to research as well as in relation to the statutory provisions that are in place.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): The Minister spoke at length about promotion of products by tobacco companies. What would happen if a tobacco company demoted a competitor's product?

Ms Blears: That argument too was considered in Committee—an arcane one, I feel. We discussed what would happen if advertising dissed other companies' products, as happens sometimes in America. XDiss" is an advertising term meaning to have a go at a competitor's product. If a company said that another company's cornflakes were not as good as its own, would that have the effect of promoting the product? It would be a question of interpretation. If an advertisement had the effect of promoting a tobacco product, it would clearly fall foul of the prohibition. If it did not have that effect, it would not be caught by the prohibition.

I suspect that the Opposition Members who tabled the new clause were being disingenuous. I suspect that they tabled it because they were doubtful about the effectiveness of an advertising ban in helping to reduce consumption. We have discussed that before, at great length, but I am happy to repeat the reasons for our belief that the weight of the evidence suggests a link between an advertising ban and reduced tobacco

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consumption, and also a link between the promotion of cigarettes and the decision of young people to start smoking.

The Smee report, produced by the Department of Health's chief economic adviser in 1992 at the request of the last Government, contained important research. It analysed existing evidence of the effect of tobacco advertising on tobacco consumption. Smee reviewed 19 studies, mainly from the United Kingdom and the United States, most of which analysed the effect of year-to-year fluctuations in advertising expenditure within countries. The report concluded:

Smee went on to consider countries that had introduced comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising. The most significant were Norway and Finland, where bans had been in place for more than a decade. He also considered Canada and New Zealand, where there had been more recent bans. He acknowledged the complications of such studies, the main one being that advertising bans were often introduced in conjunction with other tobacco control measures, but concluded:

Other work has reached similar conclusions. A 1999 report from the World Bank, XCurbing the Epidemic", said:

The World Bank suggests that implementation of the EU directive could have reduced cigarette consumption in the European Union by almost 7 per cent. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) referred to the advertising ban as a pinprick. I do not consider the possibility of saving up to 3,000 lives a year a minor effect.

Other evidence comes from the American researchers Saffer and Chaloupka, who studied data from 22 countries and concluded:

On the effect of tobacco advertising on children, university of Manchester researchers in the mid-1990s found:

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A study of adolescents in California between 1993 and 1996 found

We do not claim that advertising is the only, or even the most significant, factor in the decisions of young people to start smoking, but it is an important one. As a result, we believe that there is clear evidence of a link between tobacco consumption and advertising, and that public health will benefit from a comprehensive ban as proposed in the Bill.

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