Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The noble Baroness says that the tobacco industry is very prone to thinking up ingenious new ideas, and one of them will be to do with price lists. It is not good enough that, particularly when prices change at every Budget—inevitably so, and I suspect that they will continue to do so—price lists will now be viewed as point-of-sale material. The Government will presumably define type size and maybe even which type should be used. The consumer—who is, after all, the key person—simply wants to know what the price is.

4.45 pm

Baroness Thornton: The plain truth is that following the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, the tobacco industry put enormous imagination and resource into the point of sale, product and advertising. On this occasion we are trying to find a balance between price lists not being used to promote or advertise tobacco products and the reasonable requirement that price lists should be available, seen and easily comprehensible. That is what we will discuss with the retail industry.

Lord Monson: In replying to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the Minister suggested that there would be no question of compelling retailers to keep cigarettes under the counter in order to sell them. However, in replying to Amendment 82, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, she said that in practice retailers would no

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC362

longer be able to take cigarettes from a display cabinet mounted at a relatively high level and hand them to the purchaser. The display cabinets would be much smaller and show perhaps only one packet of each type, and the cigarettes would have to be obtained from somewhere else. If they are not going to be kept under the counter, will there be a parallel drawer or something mounted at a high level from which the cigarettes can be taken?

Baroness Thornton: LACORS approached the tobacco industry for its 2006 review of point-of-sale displays. It seeks to reduce what have become known as the “power walls” of cigarettes that greet people and it believes that covering that up by gantries will be perfectly straightforward.

Lord Naseby: I will just make a point on trading standards and then I will sit down. The Minister said that trading standards suggested that it was perfectly possible to put a screen up or something. What is the reference for that? I cannot find anything from trading standards to that effect.

Baroness Thornton: As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, indicated, large quantities of briefing material have been circulated. I have seen it and I would be happy to make available to the noble Lord illustrations of existing displays and how they might look if gantries were used. I shall also be happy to make available to the noble Lord the 2008 LACORS consultation response, Tobacco Advertising Point of Sale Report,so that he can see what I am talking about.

I appreciate that people feel strongly about this and do not agree with the proposal. I wish to be quite clear: I said that there is no intention of dictating that tobacco products have to be located in any particular place such as under the counter or overhead. The objective—which will be discussed, which will be part of the regulations and which will have a considerable lead-in time to allow retailers to achieve it—is that the advertising of tobacco products will not be visible to children and young people when they enter shops.

Baroness Tonge: This morning I called in to my local tobacconist/newsagent. He was standing outside the shop, smoking a cigarette and having a break and I discussed this with him. In particular we discussed the inconvenience and expense of putting up gantries or at least keeping tobacco out of sight. He said, “I have already got one. This does not bother me at all. I have got one that at the moment I use for security purposes. If I need to go out to the back for anything I pull it down, and at night I certainly pull it down. I cannot see what the problem is. It would not bother me”.

Lord Laird: Coming from Northern Ireland, I am pleased to say that earlier this week the Assembly there passed a motion, supported by all parties, to adopt the non-display of tobacco and its prices at the first available opportunity. It is interesting to note that, probably because of the proximity of the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland, we believe that our thinking on this issue is ahead of the rest of the

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC363

kingdom. It is interesting to note that among the groups that support the ban—all the political parties do—are the retailers. The retailers in Northern Ireland have come to terms with this; why would they be different in any other part of the kingdom?

Baroness Barker: I think I would like to thank everyone who took part in the debate. I thank the Minister for her answer, but she was wrong. I was not concerned about the burden of regulation on shopkeepers; people will know from Second Reading that I have not found those arguments particularly compelling. My concern was about something different altogether: smuggling. It is entirely possible to go into shops in this country and buy cigarettes that are not on display and are not on any price lists. They come from abroad and there is a good reason why they are not on display: they are part of an illegal activity. My colleagues and I remain concerned that the more you move towards prohibition, the more you can open up opportunities for markets that are illegal.

It was helpful that the Minister explained that the intention is that prices will be visible but will not be able to be used as an advertising and promotional tool. That clarity is very welcome, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.

Debate on whether Clause 19 should stand part of the Bill.

Earl Howe: With the opportunity of this clause stand part debate, we can now discuss what is undoubtedly the most contentious issue in the Bill—the Government’s proposal to ban point-of-sale displays of tobacco products. I said at Second Reading that I did not regard such a measure as being justified. Since then I have made it my business to read extensively on the whole subject and have had a number of meetings with, among others, Ash and Cancer Research UK. On Monday I had a long discussion on the telephone with Professor Gerard Hastings, who has done a great deal of work on behalf of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research and who was kind enough to come and give a presentation to noble Lords a few days ago. I have to tell the Committee that not only have I not changed my mind but I am even more firmly persuaded of the opinion that I previously expressed. I shall try to explain why.

We are dealing here with a proposal that the Government justify with reference to public health objectives. I am not disputing those objectives; indeed, I am fully signed up to them. As with any proposal to extend the criminal law, though, we have to be clear about two things: first, that the evidence justifying the policy is robust and, secondly, that the collateral damage likely to be caused by the measure in question is proportionate to the good that we are trying to achieve. The proposal does not pass either test.

The principal justification for a point-of-sale display ban, in the view of the Government, is that it will remove an important influence on would-be smokers to take up smoking, more especially teenagers. What evidence is there that displays of cigarettes have that effect? We are told that since the passing of the Tobacco

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC364

Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, tobacco companies have sought to get around the spirit of the law on advertising by encouraging retailers to install ever larger and more elaborate gantries to display cigarettes, and that these have in effect become a means of advertising. If that statement is to be believed, we need to show that that is happening on a wide scale and, moreover, that display gantries in themselves act as an enticement to people to take up smoking. Evidence for large gantries exists. Many of us have seen photographs of them. However, the Government said in their consultation paper at paragraph 31:

“Increases in size or prominence of display of tobacco products since TAPA came into force have yet to be confirmed by research”.

I am not sure therefore whether we can say more at this stage other than that some examples of large gantries have been observed. We cannot say that they are typical.

However, more importantly, what actual effect are displays having? At the presentation attended by noble Lords last week—I shall paraphrase—it was said that awareness of new packs among the young has increased since the ad ban; that young people still know their brands; and that this must be a function of point of sale display. A greater leap of logic, especially from an academic source, is not often found. We are supposed to believe that young people never see a cigarette pack other than in shops. A moment’s reflection should make us realise that that proposition is ridiculous. We need therefore to look more widely for evidence that point-of-sale displays influence the take-up of smoking.

There are various jurisdictions around the world where display bans have been implemented. The Department of Health place reliance on two in particular; namely, Iceland and the province of Saskatchewan in Canada. In neither of those places do the data, when examined, prove the department’s case or go anywhere near showing that they may even have a ghost of a case. I am talking here about proving cause and effect. In Canada as a whole, smoking prevalence has reduced pretty steadily over the past 10 years. In Saskatchewan, where a display ban was first introduced in 2002, the rate of decline in smoking prevalence has been less steep than in a number of provinces where there has been no display ban in force. So I am far from convinced that Saskatchewan has anything useful to tell us.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Before the noble Earl leaves that point, has he consulted the Saskatchewan Government on that and asked their opinion on whether they think that the display ban in their province has made a difference? My understanding is that they are absolutely convinced that this has made a profound difference to the number of young people who smoke.

Earl Howe: I am aware that the Saskatchewan Government believe that this has made a contribution to the decline in smoking prevalence. On what they base that decision, I do not know.

The Earl of Listowel: I should like to ask a further question, but I ask the Committee to forgive me because I know very little about Canada except that my half-sister used to live in Alberta. It is possible that the states are different. Some states may be arable, while others are city-based. Therefore, that might help

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC365

to explain this disparity in the reduction of smoking. What is the character of Saskatchewan that perhaps makes it more difficult to reduce the level of smoking? One might say that, from the level of smoking at which it started, it has moved a long way. It might not have moved as far as other states because they might have a different character. Perhaps we could have a discussion on this after Committee stage, because it is a point of detail.

Earl Howe: It is a very important point of detail and I am grateful to the noble Earl. I have a list of all the provinces in Canada, all of which show a decline in smoking prevalence over a 10-year period. The point I was seeking to make was that in a number of them, including Nova Scotia, British Colombia and Ontario—although that is not all—the decline in smoking prevalence has been steeper and in none of those places has there been, until very recently, a display ban.

Lord Naseby: I can help my noble friend on that. Saskatchewan is a province, not a state, in a rural part of Canada. Saskatoon is a normal town with a population, I would guess, of 150,000, and it is pretty poor. The most effective results have been in Ontario, which is very urban. I think that that validates totally what my noble friend has been saying.

5 pm

Earl Howe: Yes, my noble friend is right in that those are broadly the characteristics of that province. If one looks at some of the other provinces that I listed, the characteristics are rather different. But there are indeed others of a rural nature which have done better. I do not think that one can conclude much from Saskatchewan.

Baroness Tonge: I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for letting me intervene. What we are discussing is important, but if we are going to take it seriously, we need to know about all the other factors that might affect smokers in those Canadian states. It is difficult to draw any conclusions without knowing about the other factors.

Earl Howe: The noble Baroness is absolutely right, and that point can be made with particular force in relation to Iceland. A display ban was introduced in 2001 and the evidence is pretty equivocal. There is some evidence for a decline in smoking prevalence amongst the young but, depending on what figures you look at, in my submission the trends are not conclusive. More to the point, though, what is not mentioned when people talk about Iceland is that, simultaneously with the introduction of the display ban, the Icelandic Government did three other things: they put up the price of cigarettes, they introduced restrictions on smoking in public places and they introduced a positive licensing system for retail sales. There is no way that anyone can say that the display ban has of itself influenced smoking behaviour in Iceland.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: It has helped.

Earl Howe: You cannot say that.

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC366

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I have immense admiration for the noble Earl, but I find it quite difficult to understand where he is coming from. I should like to challenge him on the issue of evidence, and I want to say rather more about this clause at some stage.

If an environmental issue is so serious that it may cause lasting damage, everybody runs around and tries to gather as much evidence as possible to find remedies that might remove the risk. If sufficient evidence cannot be adduced to justify measures to reduce the risk because it simply does not exist, nevertheless measures that look as if they might help and make a contribution are put in place on the basis of the precautionary principle. There is an acknowledged global principle that says: if something is really so serious that one has considerable worries about it, one will try measures even if there is no cast-iron evidence—on the basis that you have to do something to try to tackle the problem. We are facing the real problem of children smoking, which is possibly made worse by point-of-sale advertising. Indeed, I find it difficult to understand why, in the face of something like this, we are demanding evidence that is so cast-iron that it is irrefutable when it is clear that the public and indeed many retailers, when asked about point-of-sale advertising, would be quite content for it to be removed.

Earl Howe: The issue is not point-of-sale advertising, it is point-of-sale display. As the noble Baroness knows, retailers may not advertise cigarettes. I am sorry that she does not understand where I am coming from. We are talking about an extension to the criminal law. To me that means that a policy has to be based on something substantive. I ask her to allow me to finish my speech because I think she will understand better where I am coming from when I have done so. I believe that the collateral damage that we are likely to inflict if we impose this policy is unacceptable. The noble Baroness will know from her experience in the environment field that decisions there have to be weighed up in terms of the benefit that they will do versus the unintended or adverse consequences of the measures.

Lord Naseby: Before we leave that point, if there is evidence from around the world where a ban has been imposed it is important that we evaluate it, not just turn a blind eye to it. My noble friend has analysed two examples given by Her Majesty’s Government and shot them through. A third one has just come in from New Zealand: a call to ban tobacco displays from shops does not have the support of the national Government, says Prime Minister John Key. The reason is that there is no evidence that it actually works and it is hugely expensive to do. The evidence so far is that it does not work. That is what we in this House are charged with doing: looking at evidence and coming to conclusions.

Earl Howe: I am grateful to my noble friend. It is not just me who is saying this; the Norwegian Ministry of Health commented on the Icelandic data showing a reduction in overall smoking prevalence. It said:

“There are no indications to prove that this reduction is a result of the ban more than other tobacco preventive measures introduced at the same time”.

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC367

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: In that case, why has Norway decided that it will impose a ban on public display by this November?

Earl Howe: That is a question for the Norwegian Government.

I now turn to the other part of the equation, the collateral damage that will be caused if this measure were approved. It is striking how little we hear from the Department of Health about commercial rights and freedoms. In the document called Smoking Kills in 1998, the Government referred to,

That is in paragraph 3.12. The same phrase was used in consultation on the 2002 Act. The Health Minister, Yvette Cooper, speaking in the other place in 2001, said:

“It is perfectly legitimate ... for products to be displayed, with prices, so that they can be sold because after all, tobacco is a legal product”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/2/01; col. 220.]

We need to remind ourselves of those words. To prevent a retailer from displaying a product that may be legally sold is a step that we should take only with the firmest of evidence that it is justified for overriding reasons. The supermarkets are big enough to look after themselves. The retailers that I am worried about are the small shopkeepers, the proprietors of corner shops. There are about 50,000 small corner shops in the UK. The organisations representing those small shop keepers have told me of their acute worry that a point-of-sale ban on the display of tobacco will do serious harm to their trade.

The level of concern is very high. A year ago, before the proposals were published, the Tobacco Retailers Alliance had 16,000 members; it now has 26,000. They are most worried about the effect that a display ban will have on the footfall in their shops. Tobacco sales represent the bedrock of a small shop’s turnover. People who come in to buy cigarettes typically buy other things as well—often goods with a higher profit margin than tobacco. If those people cease to patronise small shops, first, because they cannot see the product and, secondly, because they believe that supermarkets are bound to carry a larger range of goods at lower prices, the effect on trade for many small shops could well be terminal.

What do the Government think they are doing in bearing down on small shops at a time when retailers are already under acute pressure from the economic downturn? From the start of this whole consultation, retailers have been consistently excluded. No Minister has met a representative of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. The concerns of the trade and the evidence that it has produced for those concerns are simply dismissed.

Baroness Thornton: I am meeting them next week. I have been trying to meet them for about a month.

Earl Howe: That is good news. I know that the retailers have been trying to meet Ministers for a lot longer than the last month.

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC368

Lord Laird: Has the noble Earl discussed this with the retailers in Northern Ireland who support the ban? Has he discussed it with the political party in Northern Ireland which is now in a relationship with his political party, which also supports the ban?

Earl Howe: I have not done either of those things although I would be very willing to. I am always willing to listen to views of whatever kind on this subject.

The Minister’s announcement is welcome but, for her information, I should tell her prior to that meeting that when the response to the public consultation was published, the department, in its eagerness to publish what it felt was the right answer, omitted to reflect the scale and volume of the retailers’ responses. The whole exercise was conducted as if a point-of-sale display ban were a done deal. It is not a done deal because Parliament has yet to accept it.

The more I have examined the proposal, the more I am of the belief that it is both misconceived and disproportionate. By disproportionate I mean that if we consider the risks involved, the damage that we are likely to inflict by regulating in this area is unacceptably greater than the damage that we are likely to do by not regulating. I hope that collectively we can persuade the Government that they have made a serious error. I look forward to hearing what other Members of the Committee have to say.

Baroness Meacher: Does the noble Earl have any information about the impact of these display bans on small newsagents in other countries? He has referred to the evidence of its impact on young people smoking, but does he have any evidence that it really does have a major impact on newsagents?

Earl Howe: The representatives of Canadian small shops have asked to see me and I shall be meeting them in a few days. They have expressed the concern to me that since the display ban in a number of provinces, newsagents and small shops are closing. I want to hear further and better particulars about that.

Lord Borrie: I follow the noble Earl, who made an impressive and powerful speech. One can sum it up by indicating his view that an inadequate case has been made by the Government for the ban on the display of tobacco products. The Government’s case ignores the fact that the display one sees—I hope no one is blind to this—contains the words “smoking kills”, and each packet of cigarettes has rather unpleasant information on it, pictorial and otherwise, because only three months ago the Government devised regulations for these hard-hitting indications of what smoking can do.

The noble Earl’s description of the evidence from Saskatchewan in particular, other Canadian provinces and Iceland, is surely correct. What one sees from those provinces and from Iceland is a coincidence between a fall in smoking and the ban on display at the same time as other things have been going on, including, of course, the rise in prices and the rise in taxes, let alone the perfectly good propaganda—I am sorry if that is a bad word—which other Governments indulge in, as indeed does ours.

5 Mar 2009 : Column GC369

The noble Earl quoted most effectively from Yvette Cooper’s statements in the early part of this decade at the time of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002. I repeat her point that it is perfectly legitimate for products to be displayed with prices so that they can be sold because, after all, tobacco is a legal product. I emphasise that it is a legal product. The Government must know that it would be ridiculous to try to use this as an undercover way of making it illegal.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page