[Nadine Dorries in the Chair] — Illegal Alcohol and Tobacco Sales
Stephen Williams (Bristol West, Liberal Democrat)
Absolutely. I saw my hon. Friend just last night responsibly consuming beer in the Strangers Bar downstairs.
The UK is a leader in tobacco control, and I want our country and the coalition Government to remain at the forefront in that area. We have seen huge progress over the past couple of decades in the limitation of tobacco companies’ opportunities to market their products. Checking carefully around the room, I think that all of us, perhaps with the exception of the Economic Secretary, remember popular television tobacco advertising, with catchy tunes. They are now a thing of distant memory, and we will see further changes shortly. I am sure that many of us will visit supermarkets in our constituencies during the Easter recess, and we will no longer be able to see displays of tobacco products because all large shops will have to cover them up. Some shops in my constituency have already pressed ahead with doing so, including the Tesco superstore in Eastville on the edge of my constituency.
The next necessary stage in tobacco control is introducing what has been called plain packaging for cigarettes, although that is to some extent a misnomer. The design of plain packs shows that they are anything but plain, but they would be of a standardised design in order to remove what is essentially the last opportunity available to tobacco companies to promote their products: the design of packs, of packaging within the cardboard pack and of cigarettes, which now come in many shapes, sizes and colours to attract the next generation of gullible young people attracted by glitzy products that they think it is cool to consume. Of course, it is anything but.
I am sure that tobacco companies will fight tooth and nail to prevent standardised packaging from being introduced in the United Kingdom. The Department of Health is about to start a consultation exercise on plain packaging on behalf not only of central Government but of the devolved Administrations. I am sure that tobacco companies will come up with all sorts of reasons why plain and standardised packaging should not be introduced. One reason will be that it could increase the opportunity for the sale of illicit and counterfeit cigarettes, which is the topic of this welcome debate.
I doubt whether the introduction of plain packaging will increase the opportunity for counterfeiting. If it does, it will only do so because the tobacco industry inflicts that problem on itself. Most or all tobacco companies already put covert markings on their packs to protect their legal sales from illicit sales in a market where their brands are clearly visible. Their brands will no longer be clearly visible on packs if plain packaging is introduced, as I hope it is. Instead, the packs will have prominent health warnings and standardised colours and fonts. The fact that they will still have covert markings, bar codes and other measures to counteract the best efforts of those who wish to smuggle cigarettes into our country should mean that moving from branded packs to standardised plain packs will not increase the opportunity for illicit sales.