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New clause 6 would require the public disclosure by tobacco companies of details of their marketing activity and research, and their scientific research. We must bear in mind the fact that everything
that tobacco companies do is designed to maximise the sale of cigarettes. In the case of scientific research, they have a long track record of denying the conclusions of other people's scientific research, trying to introduce uncertainty about that research and trying to mislead the public.
When, after the seminal research by Sir Richard Doll, it became clear to anybody who cared to listen that smoking kills, the immediate response by the tobacco industry was to say, "Oh no, it doesn't." Then the tobacco industry did its own scientific research, which concluded: "Yes it does," but it still continued to deny it.
Then when people outside the tobacco industry proved scientifically that nicotine was addictive, the tobacco industry said, "Oh no it isn't." Then the industry did its own research, which proved that nicotine was indeed addictive, but at that point the industry did not just continue to deny it. Rather, being the evil people that they are, those in the tobacco industry increased the proportion of the addictive part of nicotine in their cigarettes, so that they became more addictive than they were beforehand.
Then the tobacco industry started promoting low-tar cigarettes, but when people outside said, "No, they aren't better for the health of people who smoke," those in the industry said, "Yes they are." Then it did its own internal scientific research, which proved yet again that the people outside the industry were right: low-tar cigarettes were no more healthy or good for smokers than the worst of them.
Since then, the industry has been promoting all sorts of allegedly scientific surveys and pseudo-research. It has paid its way into scientific publications, hiring scientists and doctors who, for the money it has paid them, have been willing to perjure themselves and say that cigarettes are not dangerous. As far as the scientific side of things is concerned, one of the tobacco industry's objects has always been just to create as much controversy as it can and to cast doubt on the plain and simple fact that smoking kills roughly half the people who take it up.
When we come to promotional activity-the industry's scientific research is of course related to this-one cannot fault the tobacco industry for not having long-term thinking. There is evidence from tobacco companies' internal documents going as far back as the 1970s that they were asking themselves, "How do we fight off the evidence of harm that tobacco does to people?" and, "How do we promote cigarette sales when advertising is banned?" There are legions of documents-generally speaking, they were revealed as a result of legal cases in the United States-that show what the tobacco companies have been up to.
There has not been so much evidence here in the United Kingdom, but the situation is probably best summarised by Mr. Geoff Good, which is an odd name under the circumstances, of Imperial Tobacco, who, referring to the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, told a meeting in London in 2006:
"In this challenging environment, the marketing team have to become more creative."
He would have been more accurate if he had said "even more creative," because the industry has been getting more and more creative over the decades. The industry has promoted point-of-sale displays and sales through
vending machines, and it has moved into massive promotional activity in music venues that are attended by young people.
Hardly anybody takes up smoking as an adult. Smoking is taken up by children or those in their late teens. Recently at the O2 Centre in Greenwich-as I understand it, O2 is not one of the oxygens, but it ought to be some chemical reference-there was a tented area that was dedicated exclusively to the promotion of cigarettes. People have been going round bars in the north-east of England with illuminated trays and illuminated young women carrying them, and a similar approach has been taken on the beaches in Brighton. Those involved have been dishing out free cigarettes to British holidaymakers in Spain to ensure that they remain addicted.
"The more visible our products are to consumers, the more sales we make."
It is no good Opposition Members saying, "Oh, there would be a damaging revenue cost if the displays were banned." If there were a revenue cost, it would mean that the ban was working. However, the industry claims that the ban would not work, but if it would not work, why is it going on about it?
The other point is this. I have every sympathy with the small shopkeeper, but we are not talking about small shopkeepers; we are talking about some of the biggest multinational corporations in the world. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) said that he would like to see them go bankrupt, but they are a long way short of being bankrupt. They are rolling in money. If the small shopkeepers need help to pay to get rid of displays, they should ask the big bosses-the tobacco barons-to pay up the money and help them to conceal those displays.
Bob Spink: The right hon. Gentleman is making some excellent points. He mentioned that half the people who take up smoking will eventually die from it, but has he made any estimate of the number of children, who are now taking up smoking in far too great a number because of the availability of cigarettes, vending machines and suchlike, who will eventually die from this filthy habit? He is making some superb points.
Then we have had the effort by the tobacco industry to get into what might be described as tobacco-branded accessories, which involves selling something that looks like Marlboro or Lucky Strike, which promotes the image and the brand. All I can do is quote probably the last ever words that Robert Kennedy said that were worth recording before he was assassinated. He was visiting the cardiothoracic unit at a hospital and he said, "I guess this is real Marlboro country." And it is: that is what the tobacco industry does.
Dr. Stoate: Just to help my right hon. Friend with the figures, 120,000 people die each year from smoking-related diseases, which is about 400 a day-the equivalent of the number on a jumbo jet falling out of the sky. That is the number of young people whom the tobacco companies need to recruit just to maintain the level of smokers in our society.
Frank Dobson: I think that I was the first ever person in the House to point out that the tobacco industry needs to recruit 120,000 new smokers a year to make up for the ones it kills in that year. We have to remember that, because the tobacco companies will be standing still if they only get an extra 120,000 new smokers.
Mike Penning: Interestingly enough, when the right hon. Gentleman became the Secretary of State for Health in 1997, sitting on his desk would have been a report by Goddard, as well as a separate one by Smee, commissioned by the Department of Health into the effects of advertising and display bands. They said that it seemed clear that tobacco advertising and retail displays had no effect on youth smoking initiation in the late 1980s. That was what was sitting on the right hon. Gentleman's desk. Why do we not have that evidence before us, so that we can have a balanced debate?
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): The Smee report did say what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) said, but it also said that people smoke or not depending on whether they have positive or negative attitudes to cigarettes. Surely advertising gives them positive ones.
My new clause 6 would force the tobacco industry to disclose all the information about its scientific and market research. At present, the people with a duty to promote public health, which includes the Government-and, one would hope, the Opposition-as well as Parliament, are continually playing catch-up with the latest scam that the tobacco industry has come up with.
Tonight, we have measures to try to cope with vending machines and displays, which are increasingly used for promotion. I propose that we allow people and organisations with a duty to promote public health to get ahead of the game. If we are to do that, we have to recognise what the tobacco companies really are. It is no good pretending that they are anything else-they are merchants of death. That is not an exaggeration.
On 7 July 2005, five suicide bombers committed a monstrous outrage in this city. Most of the people who died were killed in the two outrages in my constituency. Fifty-seven people were killed. On an average day in this country, the tobacco industry kills more than 257. It did not just do that on 7 July 2005, but on every day of the year, and it continues to do it. That is the scale of the problem that we face. Smoking is the principal source of avoidable death in this country, and anybody who takes
the issue seriously should support anything that we can do to combat the promotional activities of the tobacco industry.
I am concerned for the little corner shop, but I am also concerned for the lungs of everybody who goes into it and of those who do not go into it. That is why, although my proposal is not popular with some people, I hope that it will have the Government's support. Someone has mentioned my time as Health Secretary, and I proposed to the then Prime Minister that we introduce a similar measure, but he refused to do so. However, I am still sticking with it and I hope that the House will stick with it. I hope that we will continually expose just what the tobacco industry is up to in its efforts to make profits at the expense of the health of the people who use its products.
Sandra Gidley: The Liberal Democrats have tabled new clauses 4 and 7, but I want to start by talking about new clauses 1 and 4. Before I do, however, it might be worth clarifying one point. The Minister said that all Members of Parliament had been e-mailed the tobacco regulations. I have just checked my e-mail, and they were sent at 4.15 pm. Bearing in mind the fact that we all thought that the debate would start at 3.30 pm, it really is unacceptable that the e-mail was sent out after the planned time for the start of the debate. That gave us no chance to incorporate any comments that we might have had on the regulations. I do not know whether that was a result of the Minister's direction, or lacklustre behaviour on the part of Department of Health officials. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether that was when the e-mail was supposed to go out.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am reluctant to intervene on the hon. Lady, who is talking about e-mails, and they are of course important in this day and age, but the key places for these regulations to be, I am afraid, are in the Library and the Vote Office, and they are still not there at the moment.
New clauses 1 and 4 have the same ends-to bolster this rather feeble legislation and to make it into something a bit more meaningful. We are used to eye-catching initiatives from the Government, but the tobacco display ban is probably the first example of a non-eye-catching gimmick. The ban is a gimmick, and I speak as someone who regards themselves as a bit of a tobacco health fascist. I do not like the tobacco industry. I do not like anything it stands for. I have seen at first hand what tobacco has done to close relatives. One has only to go out the back door of any hospital to see people who can hardly walk but who have managed to stagger outside for their life-destroying cigarette. There is a problem.
Ultimately, however, I am also a scientist and a Liberal, and we are talking about an adult product. The ban has been touted as a means of reducing smoking among the under-aged. If I felt for one moment that it would do that, I would support it, but it does not, so I will be supporting provisions to remove it. As I said, we are talking about an adult product that is sold to adults.
It is rather disappointing, therefore, that the Government resisted attempts to introduce amendments in Committee to ban proxy sales of tobacco. A variation on new
clause 1 was tabled in Committee, but the Minister rejected it. She outlined some interesting statistics from a tobacco smoking survey carried out in 2006-before the age for smoking was increased. She referred to 11 to 15-year-olds, 34 per cent. of whom bought from a shop, a fifth of whom were given cigarettes by friends, a tenth of whom were given them by family members and 18 per cent. of whom often bought them from other people. She claimed that the Conservative provision we were speaking to would not solve the problem, and she cited a number of incidences in which the proposed law could not be used.
I therefore drafted new clause 4, which is based on the legislation that the Government use to prevent proxy sales of alcohol. This may be naive of me, but I assumed that the alcohol legislation is fit for purpose and that the Government would want to support a provision based on their legislation on another issue. The only reason not to support new clause 4 would be a lack of Government will to tackle the problem of proxy sales. I am told that even the tobacco retailers would not object to a provision along the lines that I propose. Whatever we might think of the product, a vast majority of retailers want to be responsible retailers. On this occasion, therefore, I hope that the Minister will not reject my proposals, because there would seem to be no reason to do so.
New clause 6 is an interesting provision, which would ensure disclosure of tobacco industry promotional research activity. We have just heard an impassioned speech by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), which clearly explained the reason behind the new clause. In 2000, the Health Committee produced a report that set out in great detail some of the methods used to promote and increase tobacco sales. The current Committee, in its inquiry on alcohol, has uncovered similar devices and actions, which are quite shocking. Other supporters of the new clause will probably regale us with more detail, and I shall leave that to them so that more people have time to speak.
I hope that commercial confidentiality is not thrown at us as a reason for not introducing my proposal. Unless information has to be provided in a very short time span, commercial confidentiality is simply not an issue. There is no detail about time scales in the legislation, so they will presumably be left to regulations. It might be helpful if any Members who are still to speak in support of the provisions could set out a time line for how they perceive the proposed openness working in practice.
New clause 7 is an attempt to go further into the issue of plain packs. In Committee, I introduced an amendment that would require all cigarettes to be sold in plain packs. That may have been a little bold for some, and I would probably be a little inconsistent if I demanded an evidence base for a display ban when there is little evidence base as yet for plain packs. However, I instinctively feel that they must be a good idea because the tobacco manufacturers seem to hate the idea with a passion.
New clause 7 requires the Secretary of State to consult stakeholders within six months of Royal Assent on regulations for the restriction or prohibition of branding on all tobacco products, thus potentially providing the first opportunity to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products anywhere in the world. It is now recommended as an issue for consideration under guidelines for the
World Health Organisation's framework convention on tobacco control-and I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that the UK is a signatory to that accord.
We need to put the new clause into the context of the health arguments and how the tobacco industry has systematically utilised and evolved the tobacco packet with the very intention-deliberate or otherwise-of undermining the regulations that sought to inform people and protect them from tobacco. We know that smoking kills one in every two of its long-term users and that smoking is an addiction of childhood, with 80 per cent. of smokers having started by the age of 19. There is also a crucial health inequalities aspect to smoking that cannot be ignored. We know that smoking is the single most important factor in health inequalities and accounts for half the difference in life expectancy between social classes 1 and 5, which is very disheartening. I shall return a little later to the role of tobacco packaging in exacerbating health inequalities. First, I would like to address the tobacco control context surrounding the new clause.
The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 prohibited the vast majority of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, which meant that the rules of the game had changed. The tobacco industry was forced into thinking how it could be a little cleverer and refine how it interacted with its users and potential consumers. One of the prime mechanisms for interacting with consumers is now through the cigarette packet itself, which is effectively used as a badge product. Although smokers may not be familiar with the concept of cigarette packets as badge products, they will be more familiar with the notion that the tobacco industry is seeking to evoke-that their brand of cigarettes reflects their identity, personality and character.
Given such priming to personalise a smoker's relationship with the brand they smoke, it is not surprising that most adults exhibit strong brand loyalty. More than 90 per cent. of smokers have already decided which brand to buy before they walk into a shop. The tobacco industry is aware of what it is doing. A Brown & Williamson employee stated in 1995 that
"if you smoke, a cigarette pack is one of the few things you use regularly that makes a statement about you. A cigarette pack is the only thing you take out of your pocket 20 times a day and lay out for everyone to see. That's a lot different than buying your soap powder in generic packaging."
That may well have been before mobile phones became the accessory to have, but this issue is worrying from a health inequalities perspective. Roper and Shah found that children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, are especially attracted to tobacco brands. Once again, the supposedly glamorous issue of smoking is being supported through a branding infrastructure.
Since 1998, the tobacco industry has sought to increase the number of brands, with the dual purpose of increasing their impact through taking up more space on the shelves while also increasing their share of the market. Benson & Hedges, for example, has increased its brand family from four in 1998 to 12 in 2008. Another function of branding is to distract from the health warnings on cigarette packets. Since January 2003, all cigarette packets have had to include a written health warning and, by 1 October 2009, a picture warning. One might wonder about the tobacco industry's response. Well, some brands actually incorporate the colours of the health warnings into the design of the pack.
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