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12 Oct 2009 : Column 95

It is of course illegal for tobacco manufacturers to say that their cigarettes are "low tar" or "light" or imply that they are less harmful than other brands. The fact remains that cigarettes contain more than 80 cancer-causing substances. Now the manufacturers use the branding and colour scheme of the pack to imply distinctions, through colours such as silver and white. For example, research by Ann McNeill at Nottingham university and other partners found that

Let me provide a practical example in case anyone does not believe me. This research found that

Consumers are deliberately being led to make distinctions between products that are essentially identical and, crucially, do not have any differential health benefit or impact.

7.45 pm

What could be the impact of plain packaging on tobacco products? Well, it would deglamorise them. Studies by Wakefield et al have found that plainer tobacco packaging can make the product seem "dull and boring". Indeed, without all the branding, what do these packets become? They become simply containers of tobacco products, rather than a brand for a smoker to build a relationship with. Such a move would be seriously fought by the tobacco industry, and it is already on their radar.

Mr. Slaughter: The hon. Lady is talking persuasively about the effect of packaging and how it influences people. Ann McNeill and others have said that it is precisely the "power wall" of display that influences people, yet the hon. Lady is against doing anything about that.

Sandra Gidley: The difference is that tobacco is an adult product, so there is no reason not to display it. I shall come on to that issue later. There would not necessarily have to be a display ban here, as the new clause might make the display much less attractive by making the package less attractive. There are examples of packages designed to attract women, who may like the package because it is sparkly and attractive, so they want to get their hands on it. This links in with addiction, as these types of packet are attractive in a way that the plain packets are not.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab) rose-

David Taylor rose-

Sandra Gidley: I am going to carry on as I have almost concluded my remarks.

The argument against plain packs is that they make it easier to counterfeit tobacco products, but it is difficult to distinguish between counterfeits and existing packs in any case, and there are covert markings on most packs, which could be incorporated into the plain type. The new clause is designed to ask the Government only to consult on the matter and properly to investigate it. It
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does not force them to adopt the proposal; it only asks them to give serious consideration to it. If we truly want to address the problem, we need to look at a range of solutions.

Amendment 1 would leave out clause 21, which introduces the display ban. I have already commented that tobacco is an adult product. I have seen no convincing evidence that this provision will reduce under-age smoking. Under-age smokers get their cigarettes mainly from other sources. If the Government were serious about cutting off supply to younger people, they would support one of the proxy sales amending provisions.

The impact on retailers was mentioned as an important consideration, but many retailers I have spoken to view it as almost inevitable that with stronger and stronger smoking control measures, their sales will drop. They fear that the drop will be sudden, although I am not entirely convinced of that. Not all retailers feel the same way, however. It was interesting to receive an e-mail from someone who had recently visited Ireland, where he saw the impact of legislation. He felt that the legislation had forced small retailers to think creatively about other products they could sell to increase footfall.

Christopher Fraser: Does the hon. Lady accept that a figure of between £1,850 and £5,000 is far too much for a small retailer to bear?

Sandra Gidley: In some cases the costs are borne by the tobacco manufacturers. I think there is some evidence that the figures we were given originally showing the impact on small retailers were lower than the real figures. There is a fair amount of disinformation.

Let me read out what the gentleman to whom I referred said. Members can make up their own minds about it, but I thought he made an interesting point. He said, "There are very small margins on tobacco products in the UK and Ireland, yet they currently take up a lot of display space in most shops. Banning displays would create a level playing field and mean that I could use that display space for healthier products which will give me a healthier profit." I thought that a very enlightened attitude, but it brings me back to the cream cakes. Sadly, healthy products are not necessarily that "must have" purchase. They may not be an impulse purchase, but people do not go out of their way to acquire them.

Amendment 16 seems to make a compromise by allowing a smaller display. I find that an interesting proposal. It treats the product as an adult product that people can still buy without restriction, but it minimises the impact of the display from the manufacturer's point of view.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's provisional support for the amendment. Does she agree that it resolves the issue raised earlier about "power walls"? If the allocation is 1.5 square metres and that is it, the power wall argument is dissolved, with no loss of the civil liberties and the economic potential that newsagents are still worried about losing.

Sandra Gidley: I agree. I felt that the amendment provided a very neat compromise. It would be interesting if we could put it to the vote, because it would potentially keep those on both sides of the argument happy.

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Dr. Pugh: None of us has any problem with indications that tobacco is available as a lawful product. What we are all against are indications that it is an attractive product, and amendment 16 goes some way towards addressing that. Does that not go to the heart of the matter?

Sandra Gidley: Yes.

I hope the House will excuse me if I say a little about vending machines. I have tried to be brief in dealing with matters raised in other amendments. A significant proportion of children buy their cigarettes from vending machines, and here the Government have again been very timid. No other age-related products can be sold in the same way. I shall leave it to those who tabled the amendment to present their arguments, but there is widespread support for the banning of such vending machines, and I feel that the Government are behind the curve in this respect.

Amendment 17 supports a sentiment first expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), who suggested on Second Reading that a compromise might be to restrict vending machines to premises to which only those over 18 had access. I am not sure how practical that is-I do not know whether clubs for over-18s can employ 16-year-old cleaners-but it is an interesting attempt.

The Government have chosen a single eye-catching initiative in an attempt to show that they are doing something about tobacco control. They have chosen the wrong measures, however, and I hope they will listen seriously to what is said about some of the amendments tabled by both Opposition and Labour Members, which in my view would do much more to control tobacco use than the path they have chosen to pursue.

Mr. McCartney: I owe the House an explanation. Because of the complexity of some of the new clauses and amendments that we are discussing and the overlap in what we are attempting to achieve, I shall pursue amendments 5 to 8, relating to clause 22 and England and Wales, and amendments 11 to 14, relating to clause 23, which deals with Northern Ireland. I am assured by my ministerial colleagues that if the amendments that I am pursuing are accepted, that will ensure that cigarette vending machines are put out of order for good to help to protect the future health of our children. I ask all Members not to find a way of frustrating the will of the House, but to find a way of ensuring that future generations of children do not die unnecessarily as a result of cigarettes purchased from vending machines.

On 8 June, on Second Reading, I presented what I considered to be an evidence-based and compelling case for an outright ban on cigarette vending machines. I implored my right hon. Friend the then new Secretary of State

I hope that that is exactly what he and his colleagues will do in the Lobby tonight.

My amendments test the resolve of the House in attempting to close an outrageous loophole in safeguards intended to prevent tens of thousands of children from illness and premature deaths in the years to come. We require the Secretary of State to regulate to prohibit the
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sale of tobacco from vending machines. Why do we need to do more? Smoking is an addiction of childhood, not an adult choice. Members may come here tonight and argue that it is to do with adult choice, but it is no such thing. More than 80 per cent. of people who start smoking before the age of 19 are hooked by then, and each year in this country people start smoking when they are as young as 10 or 11. Each year, 340,000 children in Britain start smoking, and are addicted well before they reached the age of 19.

However, it is not just a question of addiction. Members spoke earlier about the human carnage. Each year, the industry secures more than 100,000 new recruits who are not adults but children as young as 10. If the industry is to survive, it must replace the adults whom it kills-and it can do that only by replacing them with children. Tragically, year after year in my constituency and in the north-west of England as a whole, 14,000 of my fellow adult citizens die prematurely. People my age and younger will never see their children leave school, and will never see their grandchildren grow up. Why? Because they became addicted to smoking as children, and lose their lives because of it.

Tobacco is still the only product in Britain that can be sold legally which routinely, as a matter of course-daily and recurrently-kills and injures its consumers. Do not tell me that we cannot have choices! For too long the choices have been left in the hands of the tobacco industry, and they all end up as one choice: for families to watch debilitating diseases overcome their loved ones. My friend John Tiernan, who was diagnosed with cancer of both lungs at the age of 30, started smoking at 11. By the age of 31 he was dead, leaving a widow and two young children. John is not unique as a friend. We all have friends and family members to whom similar things have happened.

Smoking is the biggest health inequality indicator, accounting for 50 per cent. of the difference in life expectancy between working-class and middle-class citizens. Why? Because of its deleterious effects on our constituents.

Philip Davies: I am well aware that there is no problem that the right hon. Gentleman does not think can be solved by the nanny state, but if he is so passionate about the issue, why has he not tabled an amendment to ban smoking altogether rather than using the guise of restriction? Why does he not have the courage of his convictions, if that is what he really believes?

Mr. McCartney: If the hon. Gentleman is such an apologist for the tobacco industry, perhaps he would like to apologise to the House for the most distasteful remarks I have heard in the Chamber in 23 years. When we are trying seriously to defend the interests of young children from the effects of tobacco smoking, all that the hon. Gentleman can produce is a quip which is not worthy of response other than this: I have given you 100,000-plus reasons why every year we should ensure that this product does not get into the hands of our children. I will give you 340,000 reasons-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman remembers the correct way in which to address other Members.

Mr. McCartney: I realise that I should not use the word "you". I could call the hon. Gentleman "comrade"; I could call him "the best of mates". I could call him a
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host of things, but I thought "you" was as neutral a word as I could use in the moment. I do apologise, however. I am making this point to the hon. Gentleman: learn and grow up. He should realise that today in his constituency he has constituents who are dying prematurely because of the tobacco industry.

8 pm

Yesterday, I attended a conference of 100 young people in Chester, many of them smokers. They took a vote and they asked me to tell the House tonight. Nine out of 10 of them voted to have a strict ban on vending machines. Young people are speaking up and speaking out, and two thirds of smokers argue that there should be a ban on vending machines. Why? Because vending machines are almost exclusively used by children.

Vending machines are a danger; they are a loophole. This country rightly took the decision to secure a rise from 16 to 18 years for the age at which children and young adults can buy cigarettes. There is a reason for that: by the age of 19 more than 80 per cent. of young people who have started smoking are addicted to smoking. Yet that ban has been undermined by the industry through the use of vending machines. Children use these machines on a daily basis in disproportionately high numbers; tens of thousands of children, some as young as 10 and 11, are using vending machines, when the overwhelming majority of this country's citizens say young people should not be able to buy cigarettes until the age of 18. Vending machines are not just a loophole; they are a death trap to the next generation of young people, who will be captured by an industry that needs them to replace the adults it is already killing on a daily basis.

I ask my colleagues to support the amendments. I could say much more, but other Members wish to speak so I will let later contributors add to my remarks. The evidence is overwhelming: if we do not get rid of vending machines some people will consistently undermine the 18-years-of-age ban. We know from all the professional surveys done so far that in pubs, clubs and wherever else vending machines are located, people as young as 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 can access those machines with impunity. Therefore, the only safe way of dealing with this issue is to ban vending machines once and for all, and with this ban we will take another step down the road of making Britain a smoke-free nation. With that, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens will be able to grow up, see their children and grandchildren grow up, and see their grandchildren's children be the best they can be. If that is all we can do in this House tonight, please let us do that; let us save the next generation of children from diseases of the heart and cancers. We owe that to them; let us vote for this measure.

Philip Davies: I intend to speak only briefly as I know that other Members want to contribute and time is limited. There are a few points I want to make however, largely in response to the points made by the right hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) who were basically prime advocates of the nanny state, which has done so much damage in this country over many years.

The sanctimonious tone of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was rather hard to swallow as he was part of a Cabinet that decided to make an
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exemption on tobacco advertising for Bernie Ecclestone. There was the right hon. Gentleman saying he was speaking up for the poor and that he has something against all these big, nasty, wicked rich people, when in the past he languished in the Cabinet having defended the interests of one of the richest people in the world. So we do not need to take any lectures from him about rich people benefiting from tobacco marketing.

Frank Dobson: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that we banned advertising and promotion?

Philip Davies: Well, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is happy with his position at the time on that issue.

The point here is twofold. The right hon. Gentleman's argument about the misery of tobacco contained one fatal flaw, which is that tobacco is bought by adults. It is a product for adults; that is the law in this country. He does not seem to agree with the concept of choice. Many Labour Members seem basically to have the mindset that they have come into Parliament to do one thing and one thing only: to ban everybody else from doing what they themselves happen not to like, rather than to allow people a free choice and to make up their own minds.

Judy Mallaber: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that one person's choice to smoke affects other people's choice not to smoke? One person's freedom stops at my nose when it comes to smoking. Although in this instance we are concerned particularly about young people, does he not accept that one person's choice affects others' freedoms?

Philip Davies: No, I do not. We are getting slightly off the mark here, but the hon. Lady has the freedom to take her nose somewhere else if she does not like what she is smelling. That is the whole point of freedom and choice.

We have heard from the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that he is the friend of the small retailer, and that he thought that the only people who would suffer from banning the display of tobacco at point of sale would be those in some of the biggest companies in the world. As somebody who worked for one of those big, nasty supermarket chains for 12 years before entering Parliament, I can tell him that cigarette sales are a very small proportion of their income and certainly a very small part of their profit margins. The proposal will not have any major impact on Tesco, Asda or any of the other companies that he seems to have in his firing line. The people who will be fundamentally affected are small retailers. The big supermarkets can afford to change their displays and the way that they display products. It is the small retailer who cannot. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not go around pontificating to his small businesses on how he is so supportive of them and wants everybody to shop at their local shops, when he is trying to introduce a measure that would do more damage to small newsagents than anything else he could imagine.

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