Tobacco and Related Products

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Miss Anne McIntosh 

Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) 

Berger, Luciana (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op) 

Cunningham, Sir Tony (Workington) (Lab) 

Ellison, Jane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health)  

Hames, Duncan (Chippenham) (LD) 

Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North) (Lab) 

Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con) 

Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op) 

Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con) 

Shannon, Jim (Strangford) (DUP) 

Smith, Henry (Crawley) (Con) 

Tredinnick, David (Bosworth) (Con) 

Watkinson, Dame Angela (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con) 

Jean-Paul Flaherty, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended ( Standing Order No. 119(6) ) :

Davies, Philip (Shipley) (Con) 

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European Committee C 

Monday 16 December 2013  

[Miss Anne McIntosh in the Chair] 

Tobacco and Related Products

4.30 pm 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a statement? 

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con):  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss McIntosh. The European Scrutiny Committee felt that the document was sufficiently involved and interesting to be worthy of greater debate in this Committee before being referred to the whole House. I am grateful to the Minister for coming to explain the Government’s position. 

The Chair:  I call the Minister to make the opening statement. 

4.31 pm 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison):  Thank you, Miss McIntosh. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and his Committee colleagues on recommending a debate on the tobacco product directive. 

We all agree that smoking has an enormously harmful impact on health. Some 80,000 people a year die from smoking-related illnesses in England, and the Government are committed to reducing the number of premature deaths. It is in that context that I welcome the opportunity to debate the revised tobacco products directive. My predecessor gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in the summer, and I will now update the Committee on the negotiations. 

Successive Governments have demonstrated a commitment to improving public health through effective tobacco control policies. Over the past decade, complementary domestic and EU legislation has contributed to a decline in smoking prevalence in both adults and young people, which is welcome. Since the 2001 tobacco products directive, however, there have been several scientific and international policy developments on tobacco control; an obvious example is the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, to which every EU member state and the Commission are parties. The revised directive therefore proposes new regulation, or stricter requirements in existing legislation, in a range of areas, including the ingredients and emissions of tobacco products, labelling and packaging, product traceability and security features, cross-border distance sales, and novel and nicotine-containing products. The UK Government welcome the revised tobacco products directive and believe that, overall, the proposal would be good for public health across Europe, in particular in preventing children from taking up smoking, which is a matter of concern to us and, as recent debates in the House have shown, to Members. 

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In many areas, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament agree on the proposed measures. We were pleased to see, for example, that on 8 October the European Parliament agreed with the Council and voted to ban packs of cigarettes with fewer than 20 sticks, to increase health warnings to 65% of the front and back of packs, to make pictorial warnings mandatory throughout the EU, as they are already in the UK, and to prohibit characterising flavours. During the negotiations to date, my predecessor and I have aimed to secure adequate freedom for member states to introduce certain key domestic policies that aim for a higher level of health protection where justified, which is important because we want to retain the freedom to do more, for example, on packaging. Other objectives for the UK when we entered into the negotiations included implementing a ban on tobacco with characterising flavours, such as menthol and fruit flavours, and requiring nicotine-containing products, such as e-cigarettes, to be regulated as medicines. 

Although the Government felt, after due consideration, that the medicines regulatory regime, applied with a light touch, was the best fit for such products, it has become clear that that may not be achievable. We are working with other member states and the European Parliament to find a compromise. We have been listening to all points of view in that ongoing debate, and there is a good degree of common ground. As I said to the European Scrutiny Committee in my letter of 9 December, MEPs prefer to regulate e-cigarettes as consumer products, with some additional controls on advertising, for example. We hope that today’s final trilogue negotiation in Brussels will see a compromise reached that satisfies all parties. If e-cigarettes are to be regulated as consumer products, I would wish to see a compromise text that includes additional regulatory requirements that might provide us with further safeguards on such products. I am happy to expand on that if the Committee wishes. 

I will, of course, update the European Scrutiny Committee when I have received a read-out from today’s trilogue meeting, at which this important issue is one of the main outstanding areas of negotiation. It is difficult for me to speculate on the outcome of those discussions. 

I hope that is a helpful opening statement. I will do my best to respond to questions from Committee members, and to provide further information in due course. 

The Chair:  We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief. It is open to a Member, subject to my discretion, to ask related supplementary questions. I would suggest two or three together in one go. 

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op):  May I seek guidance on your comments, Miss McIntosh? Is it possible to ask supplementary questions in addition to those groups of two or three? 

The Chair:  Two or three together. 

Luciana Berger:  Thank you. If I heard the Minister correctly, she said that she expects today’s trilogue to be the final one. Will she confirm that? There is concern that this is our only debate in Parliament. What further opportunity might there be for this House to debate the final agreement prior to May 2014? 

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Jane Ellison:  Yes, it is the final trilogue. Obviously, there are other stages in the process, but today’s trilogue is the final discussion. I know that people might have welcomed an opportunity to discuss the matter earlier, and, in a way, I am slightly surprised that the House has not asked for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on some aspects of the measure. In other debates, including one particular late-night Adjournment debate, we have touched on some aspects of the tobacco directive, but I am sure there will be further opportunities. I am always more than happy to respond to questions or to Adjournment debates. I am always happy to debate further. 

Luciana Berger:  The Minister mentioned flavouring. Will she clarify the Government’s preferred option for managing the prohibition of flavouring? What is her view on the proposed eight-year transitional period for menthol cigarettes? 

Jane Ellison:  The Government wish characterising flavourings to be done away with as part of the directive. There is quite a lot of evidence that such flavourings are one way in which smoking may be made more attractive to young people—it is a gateway into smoking—so we feel that it is a move in the right direction. As part of the negotiation, a transitional period is needed. Different people have different views on the timing of that transitional period, and it is important to be reasonable. We are happy that we are going in the right direction. There is a great deal of common ground between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council on that issue. 

Luciana Berger:  I have three questions on packaging and slim cigarettes. Will the Minister share with the Committee any details on the arrangements to enable a smooth transition to minimum packs of 20? What is her view and the Government’s view on slim cigarettes? Will the Government consider acting on slim cigarettes as an individual state if their position is not met in today’s trilogue negotiations? 

Jane Ellison:  On packaging, as I have informed Parliament, we feel that the current text gives us sufficient room to proceed with clauses in the Children and Families Bill that would, if agreed to in due course, allow standardised packaging measures. 

During the discussions, it became obvious that we needed to be pragmatic on slim cigarettes; I made that point in a previous debate. There was not sufficient agreement to proceed, so the proposal was dropped. 

Luciana Berger:  I shall reiterate my question; I think there might have been confusion. My question was not about standardised packaging, but about the minimum packs of 20. Will the Minister clarify what arrangements will be in place to enable a smooth transition to minimum packs of 20? On what she said about standardised packaging, has there been any progress since the urgent question in the House? Will she share a little more with us about how the review is taking shape? 

Jane Ellison:  Of course, and apologies if I misunderstood. On the transitional arrangements and the minimum package size, we will look at the implementation plans as soon as the final text is known. Obviously, one has to

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have due regard to business being able to make a smooth transition, but we will look at that as part of the implementation. We do not see any roadblocks to do with that, but until the final text is known, we cannot expand on that. 

On the Government’s review, I cannot add a great deal to what I told the House. Sir Cyril Chantler is conducting the independent review for the Government. I think he is close to publishing the terms of the review; he is working to clear terms of reference. It is an independent review, so the ball is in his court; it is for him to say how he will conduct it. The House will be updated in a relatively short time when he reports in March. 

Luciana Berger:  I shall return to standardised packaging later. May I seek clarification on e-cigarettes? Does the Minister agree that it is vital that e-cigarette regulation does not stifle the development and growth of the e-cigarette market? 

Jane Ellison:  This has been an area of lively debate over the past few months. We are talking about a young market, and a new product that has presented challenges for everyone. The Government decided that a light-touch medicinal framework was right. The European Parliament favoured a different place, but the two positions are not as far apart as it might seem, because there is some common ground around, for example, not wishing e-cigarettes to be a gateway into smoking for children. At the same time, we recognise, as have, I think, many authoritative voices in public health, that they have the potential to be very positive for public health. It is a new product in a young market, so we are all feeling our way. 

The EU should certainly review the market at an early stage; that is one of the points that we are feeding into the negotiations. Of course, we do not want to stifle innovation. All factors are under consideration, and we are listening closely to what is being said by MEPs and other member states. It is worth noting that if a product makes a medicinal claim, it is appropriate for it to be regulated as a medicine. 

Luciana Berger:  I note that the Minister said that although there is a great deal of common ground in the discussions, her position on e-cigarettes might not be achievable. We do not know what the final negotiations will conclude, but does she agree that e-cigarettes need to be available in places where existing smokers can access them in order for their public health potential to be realised? How many, if any, of the 5,000 e-cigarette products on the UK market would be affected by any forthcoming regulation? 

Jane Ellison:  I have not made an assessment on that last point. I will update the hon. Lady if I can. On availability, one of the key things that we want from any compromise text is limitations on the opportunities to make nicotine-containing products appealing to children. A lot of our negotiation is around that and accessibility. We recognise that if something is not regulated as a medicine, it will obviously be available in more places, but our absolute key negotiating point is around ensuring that there is no appeal to children, and no attempt to make the products more accessible to children. 

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Luciana Berger:  What is the Government’s view on whether there should be a minimum age requirement to purchase an e-cigarette? Will they allow e-cigarettes to be put on general sale when the directive is transposed into domestic law? 

Jane Ellison:  I believe that our view is that e-cigarettes should not be available to under-18s. With regard to the latter point, it is not possible to comment in that detail until we see the text that is finally agreed; as soon as we have the text, it will obviously be possible to comment in more detail. An answer to the question presupposes a final text, which I have not seen. 

Luciana Berger:  Does the Minister agree with the Opposition that it is simply common sense that adults should not be allowed to buy cigarettes on behalf of young children? If she does, will she support our amendment in the other place to stop adults proxy purchasing cigarettes for children? 

Jane Ellison:  Obviously, I am aware of the amendments being tabled. As I have said to the House, my mind is open on measures on proxy purchasing. Successive Governments, including the Government in which the shadow Secretary of State for Health was Health Secretary, have not proceeded with legislation, I presume on the same basis. The message has always been that measures would be difficult to enforce, and the number of prosecutions for the alcohol offence is relatively small, although the licensing regime is obviously different. I said in a late-night Adjournment debate, secured by the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), that I was keen to hear on this point from local authorities, trading standards officers, and any hon. Member who wished to present evidence that such a measure would be an effective tool to prevent children taking up smoking. 

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):  What steps have been taken to tackle the illegal supply of packs of less than 20, if those packs are banned? 

Jane Ellison:  With regard to illicit trade, enforcement is a matter for Customs and Exercise. There has been good success in recent years; illicit tobacco has halved. We would work closely with colleagues on that. As Minister with responsibility for public health, my concern is the public health angle. If the Government were to proceed with standardised packaging, they would do so having taken into account all other matters, including the one to which my hon. Friend refers. 

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):  A lot of people agree that e-cigarettes represent a new market that needs reviewing, but although there is an argument for e-cigarettes as a way of helping people to desist from smoking, does the Minister accept that there is a concern that they might prove to be a gateway product for young children? One great success in tobacco control in my lifetime has been the de-normalising of cigarette smoking; the danger with e-cigarettes is that they might again normalise puffing on a cigarette. It is a new market, and it needs reviewing. Just because e-cigarette manufacturers have poured so much money into promotion, does not mean that the Government cannot stand back and look at the public health issues. 

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Jane Ellison:  I agree with the hon. Lady. All those arguments have been put to me, as she can imagine, over the past few months. There are strong views on both sides: I have heard people strongly argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway out of smoking, and that they are a gateway into smoking. The concern she identifies about being extremely cautious not to normalise smoking or encourage children to take it up is the one to which we are most sensitive, and the one that remains predominant with regard to our negotiating position. That position also depends on other issues, such as whether the e-cigarettes contain nicotine. We are alive to the concern that she raises; she has hit the nub of the issue. 

Further to my previous answer, may I say that the age limit is something that we would want member states to be able to determine and set? 

Philip Davies:  I would like to return to the point about packs of 10 and of less than 20. Cigarettes are currently being purchased illegally by children. If the purpose of a ban is to stop children purchasing cigarettes, why does the Minister not believe that packs of 10 will be purchased illegally by children on the black market, where those packs would be untaxed and cheaper? If the ban is for the benefit of adults, in what other areas do the Government believe that people should be forced to buy things that are bad for them in larger quantities? 

Jane Ellison:  With regard to pack sizes, there is a quite a lot of evidence to show that children in particular are sensitive to the product’s price. Packs of 10 are colloquially known as kiddie packs for a reason. In fact, in the EU, I think only Italy and the UK still sell smaller packs. It is right to eliminate them. My hon. Friend makes a familiar challenge around what adults can do, but it remains the case that there is no other product that, even in small quantities, is so bad for health. The same argument does not run across to food or alcohol. There are no arguments for tobacco in moderation. That puts it in a different place, in public health terms. 

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD):  The Minister is committed to evidence-based policy making. She said that the argument is made forcibly that e-cigarettes could be both a gateway into and a way out of smoking tobacco. Has she seen any persuasive evidence that supports either of those strongly made arguments? 

Jane Ellison:  I have seen some evidence in both directions, but it would be fair to say that the matter is so hotly debated because the product is too new and the market too young for there to be a categorical view either way. We acknowledge that there may be some need for compromise because of the differing views. We are trying to hold to our central concern, which is to prevent children from taking up those products, and to ensure that they do not become a gateway into smoking and normal for young people. 

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con):  I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. One of the great achievements of the past 10 years is to have taken the normalness out of smoking, so people do not have to smoke when going into pubs. I can say with some pride that last October was 10 years

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since I had my last cigarette. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I thank hon. Members. It was a huge achievement for me, and was certainly helped by the restrictions that came in over a period of time. I am not, however, convinced by the packs of 10 argument. It can be argued that it is easy to stop smoking if people are in a position to buy fewer cigarettes. 

The Chair:  Order. The hon. Gentleman should come to his question. We will have speeches afterwards. 

David Tredinnick:  I am going to ask a question. I know very well from serving under you as Chair in the past, Miss McIntosh, that you are a stickler for order. I have no intention of crossing swords with you this afternoon, because you are of course in charge. Is the Minister satisfied that she has explored the counter-argument, which is that having smaller packs of cigarettes available in shops actually helps those who are giving up smoking, because they are not tempted to buy larger numbers of cigarettes? 

Jane Ellison:  I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am new to this post, but I have examined the area a great deal since I became the Minister with responsibility for public health, and there is much evidence on this point. As I said, packs of 10 did not become colloquially known as kiddie packs without reason. Children and young people are particularly susceptible to price sensitivity, and packs of 10 are clearly at a more entry-level price point. The vast majority of member states and the European Parliament support the measure, and the UK and Italy are the only member states that allow for packs of 10, so there is a good argument that the internal market can be made more efficient by creating a common requirement on pack size. We are conscious of that, because it also removes an obstacle to the free movement of goods in the EU. 

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con):  I speak as a lifelong non-smoker, but I will not tell the Committee how many years that is. The motion is based on what is good for public health. Is the Minister familiar with the opinion of Professor Robert West, professor of health psychology and director of tobacco studies at University college London’s department of epidemiology and public health, on e-cigarettes? He says: 

“E-cigarettes are about as safe as you can get. We know about the health risks of nicotine. Nicotine is not what kills you when you smoke tobacco. E-cigarettes are probably about as safe as drinking coffee. All they contain is water vapour, nicotine, and propylene glycol (which is used to help vaporise the liquid nicotine).” 

Has the Minister taken that opinion into consideration in framing the motion? 

Jane Ellison:  I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am not familiar with that particular learned opinion, but I have read similar ones. I have been sent links to numerous articles over the past couple of months, nearly all of which I have read, so I have heard such a view expressed. 

I have been advised by officials, and by people who have worked in the area for some years, that not every e-cigarette has the contents that my hon. Friend described. There are a lot of different products on the market, and

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it is not clear where some of them originate. Big brands are moving into the market, but some of the smaller brands and imported products still contain all sorts of different things. The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council agree that there should be much greater clarity around what is in e-cigarettes if they are to have the impact on public health that my hon. Friend describes, if that is where the compromise text ends up. 

Philip Davies:  I have three final questions. First, if the Minister wishes to protect children, has she considered enforcing the existing law that bans them from buying cigarettes, and toughening up the penalties for children who try to purchase tobacco, or for those who sell it to them? Secondly, when it comes to packs of 10 cigarettes, does the Minister think that forcing people to buy more cigarettes than they want or need is good for their health? She said that taking tobacco even in small quantities is bad for people’s health, which was why the smaller packs needed to be banned. Why do the Government agree with selling packs of 20, if packs of 10 are so bad for people that they need to be banned? Finally, will she set out the relationship between Action on Smoking and Health and the Department, and tell us how cosy it is? 

Jane Ellison:  On the point about children purchasing tobacco, clearly, children should not be doing that. Any tightening of the law around that would be a Home Office lead. I would be happy to have that conversation with Home Office colleagues, but it would not be for me to lead on that. Public health has been largely devolved to local government, which I think is a good move, because the problem of children buying cigarettes and taking up smoking at a young age varies around the country. If that is one of the main public health challenges in a local authority area, I want that local authority to feel empowered to take as robust action as possible with its new public health remit, which is backed up with ring-fenced money. I would be happy to see public health officials taking robust action, but new offences would be a matter for the Home Office. 

I cannot really add to my previous response with regard to packs of 10 and price sensitivity, so I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley to my previous answer. On his final question, I have had representations from Action on Smoking and Health, as I have from all manner of people. A huge consultation took place last year on standardised packaging, during which every shade of opinion was put and everybody had a chance to make detailed comments. I am sure my hon. Friend made comments to the consultation. Certainly, the industry and those who are dedicated to combating smoking had a chance to put their points on the record in detail. That evidence is available to Sir Cyril Chantler’s review, should he wish to take advantage of it. 

Motion made and Question proposed,  

That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 18068/12 and Addenda 1 to 7, a draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products; welcomes the success of the Government so far in securing agreement for top priority issues such as the prohibition of characterising flavours, including menthol, in tobacco products; supports the Government’s continued pursuit of its key negotiating objectives during Trilogue negotiations,

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primarily a text which provides adequate flexibility for Member States to go further in certain key areas of public health policy, including packaging, where the evidence supports this and it is justified by the Treaty; further notes that the Government recognises the importance of further strengthening the internal market, taking into account a high level of health protection; and supports the Government’s view that the proposed Directive is good for public health and will be a positive measure in the Government’s efforts to reduce the number of children and young people who take up smoking in the UK.—(Jane Ellison.)  

5 pm 

Luciana Berger:  I thank the Minister for her statement, for updating the Committee on the progress of the tobacco products directive and for answering the Committee’s questions. 

Let me begin by expressing my support for the aim of the Government’s negotiations, which is to make smoking less attractive to young people. Tobacco is a unique product in that it will kill half the people who use it over their lifetimes. The Opposition have said many times before that we are keen to work with the Minister and her colleagues to make tobacco products less attractive to young people. The directive is an important part of that effort. It will replace the existing regulatory framework for tobacco products and introduce a number of changes to take account of scientific, market and global developments over the past decade, most significantly the World Health Organisation’s international treaty on tobacco control, which came into force in 2005. 

I am grateful to the Minister for her update on the trilogue negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. I appreciate that the negotiations are ongoing, fast-moving and of a sensitive nature. However, she will be aware that the European Scrutiny Committee has expressed regret that we have not had this debate sooner and that there has been limited opportunity for scrutiny by the House before today, as full details of the proposals have not been made publicly available. I therefore thank the Minister for what she has said. 

The Minister touched on a number of aspects of the draft directive, and I will say a few words about each. First, I welcome the agreement to increase the size of pictorial warnings to 65% of a cigarette pack and to apply them to both sides of the pack. Graphic images are proven to make health warnings much more effective. That is why the previous Labour Government introduced them in 2008 and why the UK was the first country to require pictorial warnings on all tobacco products. It is regrettable that the stronger proposal for picture warnings to be 75% of pack size was not adopted, but most people would agree that 65% is a positive step in the right direction. 

By specifying minimum dimensions for the health warnings, the change will also effectively ban the perfume and lipstick-shaped types of packaging that many tobacco companies use. Those glitzy designs are a powerful means of attracting young people—particularly young women—to smoking. 

Philip Davies:  Is the shadow Minister seriously saying that people who cannot see a warning that covers 65% of the pack would see one that covers 75%? Most people would find that extraordinary. 

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Luciana Berger:  I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He will know that the Opposition support standardised cigarette packaging, which would have even bigger warnings. Today, I am talking about the EU tobacco products directive, but we are having separate conversations about what will happen in the UK. 

Philip Davies:  The hon. Lady said that she regrets that the directive requires warnings to be 65%, not 75%, of the pack size. The clear presumption is that she thinks that some people will only see a warning if it is 75% of the pack size and will not see it if it is 65% of the pack size. Is she seriously claiming that, or is she indulging in gesture politics? 

Luciana Berger:  I will reiterate the point that I just made. We would like cigarettes to have standardised packaging, which would have even bigger warnings on both sides of the pack and would not have other things on the packaging to distract users. There is clear evidence to show that standardised packaging has an impact on people buying cigarettes. 

I was acknowledging the fact that the European directive, as we expect, will include warnings of at least 65%. I said that that was a step in the right direction. We would have liked the upper tier of 75%, which was discussed at the time; but ultimately, here in the UK, we would like standardised packaging with very big warnings. 

We agree on the importance of tackling flavoured tobacco products. The World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control states that 

“there is no justification for permitting the use of ingredients, such as flavouring agents, which help make tobacco products attractive.” 

The only reason for adding chocolate or fruit flavours to cigarettes is to make them more appealing to people, particularly young people, who might not otherwise try them in the first place. 

I asked the Minister a number of questions, to which I will refer in my comments. I listened to her response, but on the specific point about cigarette flavourings, I am keen to know as soon as possible how the eight-year transitional period for menthol cigarettes will work. I listened carefully to her comments, but I am keen to know in a little more detail how she anticipates the transition will work. 

The directive will also increase the minimum size for a cigarette pack to 20, which is sensible. As the Minister said, that is already the case in the vast majority of EU countries. Only the UK and Italy, which are in the minority, still allow the sale of packs of 10. 

Sir Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab):  Is my hon. Friend aware that, for my generation, starting smoking often meant buying a single cigarette? We could go to a small shop and buy one cigarette and a match. That was the entry into smoking. I agree fully that a minimum of 20 is a good thing. 

Luciana Berger:  I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Young people are more likely than adults to buy packs of 10, which, of course, are cheaper. The smaller the packet, the more affordable a tobacco product

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is to minors. Again, we are keen to know what arrangements will be put in place to enable a smooth transition to minimum packs of 20. 

The European Parliament rejected proposals to ban slim cigarettes. As the Minister said previously, that decision is unlikely to be reopened during the trilogue. The market for slim cigarettes has grown 10 times faster than the overall cigarette market in the past five years. Studies by Cancer Research UK and others have found that teenagers rate slimline designs as safer, more elegant and more stylish than standard cigarettes. I would be keen to hear a definitive answer from the Minister about whether the Government would consider acting on slim cigarettes as an individual state. 

On e-cigarettes, as the Minister has noted, the approach to nicotine-containing products is one of the more contentious aspects of the trilogue negotiations. As she said, although there is a good deal of common ground, there are still matters to be battled out, and reaching a decision among all member states might not be achievable. Given that more than 100,000 people across Britain die from smoking-related diseases every year, we must do everything that we can to support people who want to quit smoking and discourage young people from taking it up in the first place. 

An estimated 400,000 people across the UK have already switched from smoking to e-cigarettes, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has expressed support for the use of NCPs, such as e-cigarettes, as aids to help smokers cut down on tobacco use. However, if we are to maximise the potential benefits that e-cigarettes can provide, they must be better regulated. As with any new and fast-emerging product, additional safeguards are needed to cover the gaps in existing consumer regulations and allow the market to develop in future. There are many questions about the quality and standard of existing e-cigarettes and many discussions about the strength and purity of the nicotine contained in the many brands available. As I said earlier, an estimated 5,000 different e-cigarette products are available. I do not think anyone here advocates banning those cigarettes. Done in the right way, the medicinal regulation of e-cigarettes provides the best available framework to ensure that products are effective, reliable and available to the people who can most benefit from them: existing smokers. 

I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgment that this is a young market and her agreement that regulation should not stifle the e-cigarette market. As advocated by the Royal College of Physicians, the Trading Standards Institute, ASH and the Smokefree Action Coalition, we need an approach that is permissive rather than restrictive. It is still uncertain what approach to e-cigarettes will be taken in the final directive. Most EU countries already have categories of medicines that can be sold outside pharmacies. Other forms of regulated nicotine replacement therapy are also widely available as non-prescription medicines. What assessment has the Department made of the impact that the proposed policy options could have on the sale of e-cigarettes in the UK? It is crucial that the Minister assesses how many, if any, of the 5,000 products currently on UK market would be affected. Further to her earlier answer, I should be keen to know whether the Government will allow e-cigarettes to be put on general sale when the directive is transposed to domestic law. 

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Overall, I hope that we are in agreement on the need for a solution that maximises the potential of e-cigarettes to dramatically reduce the harmful impacts of smoking addiction, while ensuring that nicotine-containing products are not made attractive to children. It is challenging that we do not have proper research on whether these cigarettes are a gateway product to children, but I think that both sides of the Committee agree that our No. 1 concern is in no way to encourage future generations to take up smoking. 

Finally, the draft directive allows member states to go further in legislating for tobacco control themselves. With that in mind, I noted the Minister’s response about proxy purchasing, but I should like to know whether she will support the amendment that we proposed in the other place to prevent proxy purchasing. When will she publish the Government’s enabling amendments to the Children and Families Bill to allow full scrutiny by the House to ensure that the Government’s amendments on the standardised packaging of cigarettes are as watertight as possible? I look forward to the Minister’s response. This is an important debate and I know that she will follow the conclusion of negotiations on the directive closely, as I will. I hope that we can work together to secure the best possible result to help protect future generations from the dangers of smoking. 

5.13 pm 

Jane Ellison:  I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree for her generally positive response. I welcome her desire to work in a cross-party way to do all that we can to prevent children from taking up smoking. We had a perfect illustration of that from one of our colleagues in the Committee today. I have spoken to Members who have admitted that they started smoking as 12-year-olds and took many years to quit after a habit that was already engrained before they were adults. The hon. Lady emphasised that, and we agree on its importance. The UK has a worldwide reputation, held by successive Governments, for good public policy with regard to tobacco control. 

I thank the hon. Lady for her support on pictorial warnings and the percentage of packaging that they will cover. 

With regard to e-cigarettes, she summed up the balancing approach that the trilogue is seeking to take and some of the challenges involved. There is a relatively small amount that I can say further at this stage. With regard to e-cigarettes making medicinal claims, some are already putting themselves forward for medicinal-style regulation, which would enable them to be recommended as products to help people to quit smoking. Some products are already going in that direction. 

With regard to implementation and availability, it is too early to speculate without seeing a final text. I am sorry not to be able to go further on that; I hope that the hon. Lady understands. As soon as we know the final text that emerges from the trilogue, I will seek to update hon. Members. 

I note the regret that the Committee has not had a chance to meet before. It is worth noting, for those who are less familiar with the correspondence between myself and the European Scrutiny Committee, that I wrote to that formally on 2 and 9 December. I also spoke to the Chairman of that Committee on 6 December to make him aware of where things stand and to seek a steer

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from him on the level of update that he wanted. I have done my best to keep that Committee abreast of matters. Things have moved quite quickly in the past few weeks, and I took three specific opportunities to update the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. 

I note the hon. Lady’s comments on proxy purchasing. I will not comment on the amendment that has been tabled, as I have not looked at the detail. My right hon. Friend Lord Howe, who represents the Department of Health in the other place, will respond. However, I note that if it were as straightforward as the hon. Lady presents it, I suspect that the previous Government might have gone down that road. None the less, we are open to getting more evidence on that. We should not legislate for the sake of it. We must believe that any measure would be effective. 

In response to a previous question, I want to state that ASH receives a grant from the Department of Health to support the implementation of the tobacco control plan for England, but the limitations on that grant are clear. I want to give the Committee that assurance. 

On enforcement with regard to children purchasing tobacco, trading standards take the lead on enforcement and take it very seriously. Work on that is being undertaken by Public Health England, with the Department of Health in support. 

With regard to transposing the directive into domestic legislation, particularly on transitional arrangements, to enable business to adjust, we will turn our attention

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to that when we know what the final directive looks like. Clearly, one would have to take a reasonable approach and again balance the need to move in that direction at a sensible pace for the good of public health, alongside making reasonable accommodation for business for a transitional period. Beyond that, we cannot go into more detail at this stage. 

With regard to menthol, the European Parliament wants a transition period of five years, but member states want three years. That is being discussed in the trilogue, but our position is for three years. 

I heard what the hon. Lady said about slim cigarettes, in particular the way that they are presented to be attractive to young women. The number of young women taking up smoking, particularly when pregnant, continues to be a concern. It is variable regionally, but some regional results give great cause for concern. We will continue to keep the issue of slim cigarettes under close watch and will consider what more can be done if we see evidence that they are encouraging more young people to take up smoking. 

I think that I have tried to respond to all the hon. Lady’s main points. I will be able to update hon. Members further when the trilogue is completed, and I will seek to do that as soon as reasonably possible. 

Question put and agreed to.  

5.18 pm 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 17th December 2013