Under the order of the House of
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered standardised packaging of tobacco products.
I welcome our first opportunity to debate this matter in the Chamber since the Government made their decision in the summer, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to take place.
The Department of Health held an extended consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products, but it was greatly disappointing to people across the House that the Government decided not to proceed with standardisation. In September we had a very full Westminster Hall when we debated this subject. It was the first day back after our summer recess, so I suspected that we would not get a full audience, but in the end 21 Members spoke, meaning that a strict time limit had to be imposed on speeches. It was a wide-ranging debate that allowed everyone to put their point of view, and I hope that we can do the same thing in this Chamber this afternoon.
Since that Westminster Hall debate, we have had a new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, whom I welcome to her place. She has an opportunity to set out the Government’s position on standardised packaging of tobacco products, and I hope that she will indicate some movement in favour of standardisation. When this matter was raised in Health questions recently, it was debated at length, with many Members wishing to get in. By way of context, there is also an upcoming House of Lords debate on the Children and Families Bill, which I hope will result in the Bill being amended to outlaw the smoking of tobacco products by people travelling in cars with young children.
Obviously, we do not wish to divide the House today, but I say to the Government that unless we get some movement before Christmas, we will seek another debate, with a Division, so that the will of the House can be expressed.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about smoking, and I agree that we should do everything possible to get people to stop smoking and to stop young people in particular taking it up, but does he agree that policy has to be evidence-based, that we should wait and see what emerges elsewhere across the globe and that, in view of that, we should continue to educate people, particularly young people, not to take it up in the first place?
I will come to that point—particularly in respect of young people—later.
I am personally committed to stopping people smoking in the first place and to helping them give up. Both my parents died of cancer. My mother died at 47 of lung and throat cancer, and I still remember what she went through. It was the direct result of a long-standing tobacco habit.
It would also be great to cut the amount of each cigarette smoked. Would the hon. Gentleman like to take up the suggestion of not just changing the packaging of the box, but printing something on the cigarette itself to encourage people to stop smoking before they get to the end?
That sounds like a good idea. We are not talking about that today, but it could be included in the evidence.
We have an opportunity to debate these issues. As my hon. Friend Alok Sharma said, we must take an evidence-based approach. The widespread consultation that the Department of Health conducted over the summer found a welter of evidence supporting the standardisation of packaging and its impact on the numbers of people taking up or giving up smoking. I am secretary of the all-party group on smoking and health and I regard tobacco control as a very high priority for any Government, and an issue that cuts across party lines and creates different views. I welcome the fact that members of the APPG from all parties are here to debate the issue.
I entirely agree that any standardised packaging to which we agree should be evidence-based. We have looked at the results from Australia after nine months. The anecdotal evidence so far suggests that although people have switched to cheaper brands, the volume of cigarettes being sold has not altered. What does the hon. Gentleman make of that?
The issue for us is that we want to remove the last aspects of advertising that are available to the tobacco industry. At the moment, there is still an attractive promotional aspect of tobacco, which is the packaging. We want all tobacco packs to be uniform, including the colour of the pack, and to allow the promotion of strong anti-smoking and pro-health messages. Evidence is emerging from Australia, but other parts of the globe are going ahead with standardisation of packaging, including Ireland.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does he agree that use of the term “standard packaging” or “plain packaging” is a misnomer? We should be calling it “stark-staring truth packaging”. What it means is that we are handing someone a packet with a picture of gangrene. It is actually a crystal ball, and it counteracts the very powerful subliminal messages and the last legal form of tobacco marketing in this country.
The fact is that smoking is a lethal addiction. We know that. It is the one product in service in the world where, if used in the way it is intended, will lead directly to poor health and possibly death. Across England, 80,000 people a year die from smoking-related diseases. There are more premature deaths from smoking than from obesity, alcohol, illegal drug use and AIDS put together. It is the biggest single killer. In the long run, if we can get a fall of just one percentage point in smoking prevalence rates, we could save 1,800 lives per year. Who would not wish to save 1,800 lives per year? There cannot be an effective public health policy unless tobacco control is at its heart.
Every one of us in the House will remember how, in our youth, cigarettes were marketed as fashionable, trendy and stylish. With 200,000 children starting smoking every year in Britain, and 11,000 in Wales, is it not right that we send a very clear message that smoking is not trendy or stylish; it is a killer?
The hon. Lady comes on to a particular issue. The vast majority of smokers begin smoking in childhood. Two thirds of current smokers began under the age of 18 and we know that 200,000 young people under the age of 15 begin to smoke every year. When you add in the people that begin to smoke between 15 and 18, it becomes 300,000 smokers per year. Once someone is hooked, it is very difficult to give up. Most people say that after the direct sale of cigarettes to minors was made unlawful, many young people still continued to start smoking. Cancer Research stated in 2011 that more than 200,000 young people under the age of 16 had started to smoke. We must make sure that we reduce that number quite drastically.
My hon. Friend talks about the accessibility of cigarettes for people who take up smoking. Gillingham has the largest amount of illegal cigarettes smoked in the country, which has an effect on health, the economy and crime. Does he agree that more needs to be done nationally to ensure that we stop these illegal cigarettes coming in to our country?
I agree completely. That demonstrates the failure of the tobacco industry to stop the illicit trade, even under the current advertising arrangements for packaging.
The hon. Gentleman will know that more than 1,000 people in my constituency are directly employed by the tobacco industry, which creates huge employment opportunities for my constituents. Why will he not just be honest and say that we should ban smoking altogether and make it illegal? That is the direction of travel he is taking. We are hearing all this nonsense about different colours, subliminal messages and messages written on cigarettes; let us cut the nonsense. Why will he not be honest with the House and say that he wants to ban smoking altogether?
I am not one of those who wants to ban particular substances. If someone wants to put a cigarette in their mouth, set light to it and attempt to kill themselves, that is their choice. They have the freedom to do so. All I say is, “Don’t breathe that smoke over me, don’t breathe it over children, don’t inflict it on others.”
I have taken several interventions, and I know that Mr Deputy Speaker wants me to make progress.
Once young people start smoking, they are likely to continue for the rest of their lives. Smoking causes much more damage to young lungs, which increases the likelihood of young people dying from smoking-related diseases. The tobacco industry is desperate to retain its market share, and to recruit new smokers every year. After all, older smokers either quit or die, and younger people also die from smoking-related diseases. Most of the new smokers will be children. In my constituency, about 550 children start smoking every year. That is a scandal, and I want to see that figure radically reduced.
To make the control policy more effective, we must prevent children from starting to smoke in the first place. We must adopt policies that make it more difficult for the tobacco industry to target and recruit new smokers. Once again, however, if young people choose to start smoking, that is their right. In trying to find the policies to achieve that result, we could do worse than look at the commercial strategies adopted by the tobacco industry itself. Over many years, the industry has designed its advertising and marketing to promote an image of smoking that is most likely to appeal to young people.
A great deal of information about this has come into the public domain, particularly after confidential industry documents were made public following the US tobacco master settlement with the industry in 1998. I shall give the House an example. An internal R. J. Reynolds document from 1981 states:
“Smoking is frequently used in situations when people are trying to make friends, to look more mature, to look more attractive, to look ‘cooler’, and to feel more comfortable around others. These aspects of social interaction are especially prevalent among younger adult smokers”.
I could not have put it better myself. The fact is that the industry markets itself in that way.
Successive Governments have made it more difficult for the industry to reach its target teenage market. Conventional tobacco advertising is banned, and I welcome that. I also welcome the banning of retail displays in large shops. They will soon be outlawed in smaller shops as well. Stopping smoking in enclosed spaces has significantly reduced the exposure of young people to smoking.
My hon. Friend said that he had no objection to people taking up smoking. Does he not feel that, in a free society, we would cross a dangerous line if we were to prevent manufacturers from differentiating their brand from the others?
No, I do not. It is quite right that we should take action to prevent manufacturers from making their products more attractive to children and young people.
We are left with one large loophole, through which the tobacco industry is still furiously blowing smoke. The packs themselves can be used to market and advertise, to create brand identities, and to help to present an image of smoking that might indeed seem “cool” to an insecure teenager.
My hon. Friend is generous in giving way and is making an excellent opening speech. On the covering up of cigarettes in large and small retailers—something I support—at what point does he think that packets will be on display as advertisements for the tobacco companies if they are covered up at the point of sale? Will it just be at the point when the cigarettes are in someone’s hand—after they have already been bought?
My hon. Friend brings me to the next aspect of the issue. The cigarettes will be behind closed doors, as it were, and the only time when smokers will display their tobacco branding will be when they take out their pack to smoke, which is welcome.
Indeed, but that is the only advertising that the tobacco industry can currently have.
The trade magazine World Tobacco advises:
“If your brand can no longer shout from billboards, let alone from the cinema screen or the pages of a glossy magazine…it can at least court smokers…from wherever it is placed by those already wedded to it.”
That is the industry speaking. Philip Morris International, in its company response to the consultation on standardised packaging, said that as
“an integral part of the product…packaging is an important means of differentiating brands and in that sense is a means of communicating to consumers about what brands are on sale and in particular the good will associated with our trademarks, indicating brand value and quality. Placing trademarks on packaged goods is, thus, at the heart of commercial expression.”
I thank my hon. Friend, who is making a very passionate speech. I know he feels very strongly about this subject. At the end of the day, however, we have noted the importance of policy being evidence-based. I do not hold a candle for the manufacturers of cigarettes, but I understand that KPMG published a report in October showing that the emerging evidence from Australia was that the introduction of standardised packaging has seen an increase in the levels of illicit tobacco and no reduction in consumption. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that?
I will comment on it in a few moments. I shall skip over the last few sections of my speech, as I know that Mr Deputy Speaker wishes me to conclude.
The research done by Sterling university’s public health research consortium shows that standardised packaging is less attractive to potential consumers. That is good news because it means that if we have standardised packaging, smoking will be less attractive to young people and children. The reviewers looked at 17 further studies, so there is no lack of evidence. There is plenty of evidence, and the evidence in favour of standardised packaging is very strong.
I will not give way because I am under time constraints.
The industry’s position is quite clear: it wishes to protect the intellectual property rights of its product, and it thinks that that trumps the requirements of public health. I say that public health is much more important than the rights and wrongs of the tobacco industry. Tobacco firms have spent heavily, tried to lobby Members and the Department of Health and sought to prevent progress on this issue. They have put the different aspects of the argument, but I am sure that colleagues will allude to the fact that there are ways of stopping the illicit trade and ensuring that security is maintained on the product. We can prevent the illicit trade from growing.
Let me touch on what is happening in Australia. The evidence has been very positive. One study showed that, compared with smokers who were still using branded packs when the research was carried out, standardised pack smokers were 66% more likely to think their cigarettes were poorer quality than a year ago; 70% more likely to say they found them less satisfying; and 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day every week since the ban was introduced.
Order. Everyone wants to get in, but we are running out of time. I need to remind the House that the opening speech was to be 15 minutes, but we are well over that already.
Now that we have the evidence, I ask the Government to listen to the debate. We will hear a response from the Minister, and I trust that by the end of this debate, the view of the House will be overwhelming and the Government will seek to introduce regulation on standardised packaging as fast as possible. We will not seek to divide the House today—this is a general debate—but if the Government do not come forward with regulations before Christmas, we will seek another debate on a motion that allows the House to divide and express its clear will.
Order. I shall now reduce the speaking time limit to eight minutes—[Interruption.] If Alex Cunningham wants me to reduce it further, I shall be more than happy to do so, but I am sure that he would rather speak for eight minutes than five. The danger is that speeches will run on, and many Members wish to speak in the second debate.
I understand time constraints, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I, too, am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving us an opportunity to debate this issue. I am pleased to be following Bob Blackman, who has more than earned his spurs through his campaign.
On the last occasion when we tried to encourage the Government to act in this regard, speakers were restricted to just three minutes, and even a number of Members on the other side of the argument shared our frustration because they had so little time to put their own case. Many Members in all parts of the House are still far from happy that the Government are delaying the decision to do the right thing and implement the proposals for standardised packaging—a delay that will lead to countless more young people starting to smoke.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman is aware of the efforts that have been made in Scotland, and wishes to congratulate the Scottish Government on the fact that we are going to introduce standardised packaging as well as minimum pricing. We are going to do that because we take the issue of public health very seriously, and because we do not have Lynton Crosby advising us.
I will congratulate any Government who are making the right decision on plain packaging.
I am aware that some Members fear that a fall in demand for tobacco will cost many of their constituents their jobs. I know that they will stand up and speak for the industry, but they will also be speaking for their constituents. I hope that the prospect of improved health, a smaller burden on the national health service and the protection of children will make them think again. I also hope that today’s debate will focus not on the cynical speculation that surrounds the drivers of tobacco policy and the influence that the tobacco lobbyists are able to exert, but on the decidedly positive effects than standardised packaging could bring, and the harm that is likely to result if the Government continue to insist on dragging their feet.
Reducing the prevalence of tobacco use is a key public health priority. None of us needs reminding of the consequences of smoking, which remains the leading cause of preventable mortality in the UK. Half the number of lifetime smokers will die from smoking-related diseases, which means that there may be 100,000 preventable deaths each year. One in five adults continues to smoke, and many people continue to take up the habit, including 573 children aged between 11 and 15 each and every day.
Does it not strike the hon. Gentleman as strange that the Government claim to be delaying the introduction of standardised packaging because they want to wait for more evidence, but at the same time are virtually rushing into regulation to make e-cigarettes a medicinal product, although there is mounting evidence that, if anything, they could cause harm reduction?
I agree that we also need to look into the issues surrounding the smoking of electronic cigarettes.
The Government should be acting on this matter. The evidence has already been resented to the House today. It is unquestionable that we need to take action now, and save children and young people from an addictive habit that will devastate their lives.
As I have said many times before, while I disagreed with the former Health Secretary, Mr Lansley, about a number of issues, I believe that the best thing he ever said was that he wanted the tobacco industry to have “no business” in the UK. I hope that the new Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jane Ellison, shares that goal, and will pursue it with the vigour that it deserves. I welcome her recent assertion that
“Stopping children and young people smoking is a priority for us all”.
However, actions speak louder than words.
Since the Government’s consultation closed 15 months ago, Australia has become the first country to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products. That is already changing attitudes. Our own Government’s inaction in failing to enact measures similar to those in Australia poses a major threat to tobacco control. However, I was pleased to hear the new Under-Secretary of State tell the House during Health questions last month that
“new information ... not just from this country but from around the world… is under very active consideration.” —[Hansard, 22 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 132.]
I should welcome her confirmation of the timetable for the completion of that consideration and the making of a definitive decision.
I have no doubt that standardised packaging for tobacco products is necessary to quell demand. Smoking is an addiction that begins in childhood, and tobacco packaging is designed to be attractive, catching the eye of young people in particular. I am aware of the damage that this horrible habit is doing to people in my constituency, young and old alike, many of whom live in some of the most deprived wards in the country. We need to take active steps to reduce the incidence of smoking, and to implement measures to prevent future uptake. The decision to delay progress with standard packaging will needlessly condemn hundreds of thousands more to a life of addiction because some think it “cool” to smoke. Plain packaging fits the bill. Not only is there a real need for it, but it is a solution that is wanted and workable.
It is worth noting that, during a Westminster Hall debate in September, the former Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Anna Soubry, recounted her own experiences of tobacco addiction and its horrendous consequences. Fortunately, she was able to kick the habit. It is significant that she recalled the “power of the packet”, and spoke openly of choosing a particular brand of cigarette for her first pack
“because they were green, gorgeous and a symbol of glamour.”—[Hansard, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 23WH.]
Indeed, she made a superb case for standardised packaging as a means of preventing future uptake. I hope that that, along with evidence provided by fellow Members today, will remind the Health Secretary of the strong supporting evidence, and persuade him to delay no more. Perhaps he will even go so far as to do the right thing and give Members the right to vote on the issue, thus allowing the will of Parliament to be implemented.
The United Kingdom has previously taken a leading role in this regard, certainly in Europe. It has some of the most comprehensive tobacco control policies in the world, not least the tobacco control plan, which led to the introduction of smoke-free public places and the banning of displays on retail premises. It is clear that the current Government have recognised, at least to some degree, the raft of negative consequences that can arise from ready access to branded packaging, yet Ministers remain adamant that the evidence we have is not substantial enough, and continue to insist that non-legislative solutions are better suited to the task in hand.
There is already a wealth of evidence that standardised packaging works, and new evidence is being published all the time. A systematic review of 37 peer-reviewed studies, carried out by the university of Stirling for the Department of Health, found standard packaging to be less attractive while also improving the effectiveness of health warnings, thereby reducing smoking uptake among young people. The review also found that standardised packs were perceived as having less “clutter” to detract from the all-important health warnings, with the monotony and sincerity of the packaging serving to enhance their seriousness and believability. Since then at least 12 additional studies have been published, and the growing body of research consistently reports that standardised packaging would reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of health warnings.
Lest there be any doubt, let me add that the evidence from Australia confirms those findings. Not only do those who smoke cigarettes from standardised packs perceive their cigarettes to be of a lower quality than those from branded packs, but there is a demonstrated tendency to perceive cigarettes as less satisfying.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of calls to Quitline, Australia’s smoking cessation service, has increased considerably since the introduction of the new law in that country?
We can all choose which part of the briefing we wish to cite. It is clear to me that standardised packaging is working in Australia, and I am sure that it will continue to do so. The hon. Member for Harrow East mentioned that 81% of people were likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day during the past week, and I think that that too is an important statistic.
What further evidence does the Secretary of State need to see before he commits himself decisively to making these life-saving changes? Pressure on smoking must be continuous and relentless, because we are fighting a pervasive, lethal and powerful addiction. We cannot afford to waver or hesitate. Every year more than 200,000 people under the age of 16 start to smoke, and that is 200,000 too many. Even if plain packaging just halves the number of new young smokers who are currently attracted to the slim, colourful and glamorous packs, it will have had a major impact on hundreds of thousands of lives.
If we wait the suggested three years for evidence from Australian legislation to emerge, little if any progress will be made. Incidentally, in the United Kingdom fewer people are attempting to quit with the help of the national health service for the first time in five years. The current prospect is unacceptable. The Government must act now to prevent further tragedy, rather than adopting the leisurely timetable that has been proposed by some who think that they know better, or perhaps have vested interests.
Let me drive the point home. More than 250 people die prematurely every year from smoking-related diseases in my local authority area of Stockton-on-Tees. We have a lung cancer rate of 67.1 per 100,000 people, which is a staggering 40% higher than the national average, and figures show that 610 children aged between 10 and 14 are already regular smokers.
I recall young people referring to cigarettes as “cancer sticks”, but many still think it cool to smoke. I see them walking to school, cigarette in hand or mouth, and it upsets me to think that had the Government acted, many of them would not have been attracted to the habit at all. Attempts are being made in the other place to introduce new clauses to the Children and Families Bill which would create a requirement for standardised packaging, and it is also possible that my own proposals to render it illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are present will be reintroduced.
I hope the Government will do the right thing by pre-empting the votes in the other place and announcing they will introduce their own legislation and put this matter to bed once and for all. No company should be allowed to promote such a deadly product through advertising and marketing. The glamorised packet in the hands of a young person is the most powerful marketing tool the industry now has left. Let us deny it to it without delay.
The case for standard packs is strong, and the need for action is urgent. A few weeks ago I spoke of the two sides in this debate: on the one side, the rich and utterly cynical industry that is quite happy to market products that still kill more than 100,000 people across the UK every year—more than the next six most common causes of preventable death—and on the other side, the medical and health community, politicians from all parties, and the general public. In the middle are the Government. Ministers from the Prime Minister himself down through the ranks know there is evidence that standardised packs will work for the better. I hope they will announce action now and give our people a better chance at better health.
It is a delight to take part in this important debate, and I declare my interest in the register. Although I no longer own a convenience store in Swansea, I suspect over my lifetime I have sold more cigarettes than everybody in the House has consumed.
I see this as a non-partisan issue. It should be evidence-based. We are talking about treating the sale of a legal commodity completely differently from the sale of any other commodity, and before going down that route, we should ensure that our decisions are properly evidence-based.
I do not smoke, apart from the odd cigar—it is just the odd one—but I am cognisant of the fact that there are over 12 million smokers in this country. The vast majority of them are adults and this is all about individual choice and liberty. Ian Paisley made an important point when he said he believes we are going in the direction of possibly banning cigarettes and tobacco completely, and we should be more honest about that. If these products have the consequences that were described by Alex Cunningham and my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, that is perhaps the direction in which we will be going. My hon. Friend spoke emotionally about the loss of his parents through cancer. I lost my own dad through cancer as well, and it is hideous seeing loved ones dying in that way.
My father switched brands. He used to smoke Senior Service, then Player’s, and I even think he toyed with Capstan Full Strength at one stage, and as he was dying he switched to Silk Cut—but all far too late, of course. The fact is that anybody who has seen someone die of cancer knows it is hideous.
As has been said, we need education. People must be properly educated about the damaging effects of smoking, and the damaging effects it can have over a lifetime.
I think it is right that we should wait for the evidence from Australia and any other countries that are about to embark down the route of standardised packaging. I know there are World Trade Organisation issues and European Union issues and these will all be dealt with in the right arenas. The EU is looking at standardising 65% of the packaging as far as the health warnings are concerned and making the sale of packs of 10 illegal.
There have been a number of changes to smoking laws in this country, including the banning of smoking in public places. Indeed, we have the Smoking Room in this Parliament where nobody is allowed to smoke, and I have always joked with friends when they leave the pub to have a quick cigarette outside that, given the cold winters in the United Kingdom, pneumonia will become a smoking-related disease. We have brought in these rules, however, and in many cases they are sensible.
It has always struck me that there was a very good argument against banning tobacco advertising. Advertising is influential and therefore important, of course, and it was always the advert at the bottom of the advert that I found most important. The advertisers could put anything on top—“the fat lady sings” adverts, or the Marlboro ones which we had to look at very carefully to work out whether they were advertising cigarettes or something else—but it was the advert below, which was the health warning saying “Smoking kills”, which was always more persuasive to me than anything else displayed.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that if branding is banned, tobacco companies may use the money they currently spend on branding to cut the price of cigarettes?
That is exactly what is going to happen, and I think one hon. Member intervened to say that that is part of the evidence from Australia. A lot of people like brands, like Benson & Hedges or Regal, but others will go for the own-brand—whatever is cheaper. If it is £1 cheaper than the more expensive brands, that is what they will go for. Some people, I swear, will smoke the dust off the floor if it is sold at £1 cheaper than a branded pack. The point my hon. Friend raises therefore has got to be looked at as a possibly unintended consequence of bringing in standardised packaging.
I visited Clitheroe grammar school a few months ago and the issue of why the Government have delayed introducing standardised packaging was mentioned. I thought about it for a while and then I said to the pupil concerned, “Right: how much cannabis and ecstasy is consumed in the UK?” The pupil said, “Oh, quite a lot,” to which I said, “I think you’re probably right. Do us a favour: describe to me the packaging on cannabis or ecstasy.”
I ask Members to think about that for a second. What is the packaging of cannabis or ecstasy? There is no packaging. They come in foil or see-through bags, or in an envelope, perhaps. Clearly, people are not buying these products because of the packaging, standardised or otherwise. They buy them because they want them. That is a strong counter-argument to the proposal to get rid of branding.
Surely the answer to the question is that if those things were legal, health warnings would be on them, and quite right, too.
Surely if making something illegal stops people consuming it, the fact that it is illegal for those under 18 to buy cigarettes would already stop any children taking up smoking.
We know that is not an effective law, but that does not mean we should not have that law.
I believe we ought to look at education for young people. I do not want to see young people taking up cigarettes or any tobacco products at all. Doing more in the schools is vitally important, as is doing more through public health education campaigns. Can the Minister tell us what plans the Government have to roll out health campaigns particularly aimed at young people, to discourage them from starting to consume tobacco products?
I believe we should wait until we get the proper evidence from Australia and other countries about the impact of standardised packaging. Once we have the evidence, it will be appropriate to decide whether or not to introduce standardised packaging. As I said at the outset, tobacco would be the only product sold in the UK where the state entirely governed the packaging. Before we go down that slippery slope, which may be extended to other products in the future, we should make absolutely certain we have the science and evidence to back up the decision.
Although I disagree with much of what we have just heard, it is a pleasure to follow Mr Evans. I am grateful that we, once again, have a chance to speak about the merits of standardised packaging. I also spoke on the subject in the debate that took place earlier in the year. Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I spoke of the devastating effects that smoking-related illnesses have on families and individuals throughout our country. In the 10 months after the Government closed the consultation on this matter, no meaningful action was taken. During that time, 150,000 children will have started to smoke and, as we have heard, addiction results in the death of half its long-term users. Fifteen months have now passed, so we have had another five months during which we have had the opportunity to reduce significantly the 100,000 smoking-related deaths that take place each year. Sadly, yet again, no action has been taken by this Government.
We cannot neglect our duty to give all children and young people the best start in all areas of life. Health, education, decent housing and physical and emotional security are some of the very basics we should strive to achieve. Without them, children do not have an equal chance in life. By failing to protect children from the dangers of smoking when they are too young to make a truly informed choice, we are failing to provide each child with their very basic rights. The reform is simple and the potential gains are immense. There is a reason why smoking-related deaths are labelled as “preventable”. The question is how long, and how many lives will it take, before the Government act.
One thing is clear: standardised cigarette packaging will be introduced. This country has historically taken a strong line on the regulation of harmful products consumed by young people: in 2005, we tightened regulations on the advertising of alcohol, ensuring that advertising did not link to youth culture or irresponsible behaviour; to prevent passive smoking, we banned smoking in public places; to prevent children from taking up smoking at a young age, we made it illegal for shops to sell cigarettes to under-18s; and to prevent cigarettes from being glamorised, we ended sports sponsorship and billboard advertising.
We have put legislation in place to make adult consumers fully aware of the risks associated with smoking, launching nationwide health campaigns and offering tailored support for those who want to quit. Evidence and public support has helped successive Governments strive to improve the health of our nation. We must continue that tradition and strive to give young people every opportunity to live a healthy life. If we are to improve public health, cut preventable deaths and prevent young people from taking up a habit that could cause them significant harm, the course of action that is open to us is clear: standardised cigarette packaging, which can and would improve the health of future generations.
The evidence is clear: advertising works. If it did not, tobacco companies throughout the world would not spend huge amounts of money to reach out to new and existing consumers. Last year. Cancer Research UK released a report on the influence that marketing has on young people. It stated:
“All 19 quantitative studies found standard packs less attractive than branded equivalents, to both adults and children” and that
“13 qualitative studies found that standard packs consistently received lower ratings on projected personality attributes (such as ‘popular’ and ‘cool’) than branded packs”.
All that reinforces the World Health Organisation’s conclusion:
“Marketing of tobacco products encourages current smokers to smoke more, decreases their motivation to quit and urges young people to start”.
Over half of long-term smokers die from a smoking-related disease, and that amounts to more than 100,000 people each year. In my constituency, 283 people per 100,000 die each year from smoking-related diseases. An estimated 1,110 young people aged between 10 and 14 are classified as regular smokers. Given that nationally each year more than 200,000 young people under 16 are beginning to smoke, inaction amounts to nothing less than neglect. For Barnsley alone, smoking creates a bill amounting to £75.3 million each year; financially, and socially, the costs of smoking are high.
The evidence is clear, and the only thing lacking clarity in this debate is the reason behind the Government’s failure to act. By introducing standardised packaging, Britain would send an important message that we are a country that prioritises our children’s health and well-being. By failing to act, the Government are prioritising business interest over the health of young people and future generations.
My hon. Friend used the word “neglect” and said that we could be neglecting our young people by failing to act. Does he agree that this is a genuine child protection issue?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. We are in this place to make judgments about what is in the interests of our constituents, and it is my judgment, as it is his and, I believe, that of the majority of hon. Members, that it is in the short-term, medium-term and long-term public interest of our constituents to introduce standardised cigarette packaging.
I therefore strongly believe that the arguments against plain packaging—standardised packaging—and the justification for the Government’s “wait and see” approach are inconsistent. First, introducing standardised packaging is not aimed at stigmatising adults who already smoke. This is not about limiting choice for adult consumers; standardised packaging does not change what is inside the packet, but is a measure to protect children who are more easily influenced by marketing. Secondly, some hon. Members have argued that introducing such a measure would limit the tobacco industry’s right to advertise. Instead, we should be asking ourselves whether, by allowing the continuation of the status quo, we are infringing on the right of every young person to have a healthy childhood, and increasing their chances of taking up a habit that could have significant health implications for them for the rest of their life.
It is regrettable that I, along with many other hon. Members, must persist in relaying the facts to a Government who, as of yet, seek to ignore the evidence in front of them. This country has been an international leader in public health policy and we should continue to be so. We will have standardised packaging at some point in the future—it is just a question of when. Fundamentally, standardised cigarette packaging is about improving the nation’s health and giving each child the best possible chance of living a healthy life. The choice is theirs when they are an adult, but the responsibility is ours now. I urge the Government to act.
May I begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I speak as a lifelong non-smoker. I have never smoked and I do not intend ever to smoke. That is my choice, and such a choice is open to anyone, but there has been a huge change in the culture surrounding smoking since I was a child. I do not know whether anyone in the Chamber is as ancient as me, but if they are, they will remember a television advert saying, “You’re never alone with a Strand”. It had a picture of a glamorous, enigmatic man with the collar of his raincoat turned up. He was smoking, and every man wanted to be like him because he was glamorous and mystifying. Hollywood stars, who appeared to spend their entire lives in evening dress, had long cigarette holders and the practice was presented as glamorous, attractive and sophisticated. People of my age at that time could not wait to grow up and reach 16 so that they could smoke—everybody did—because it was a sign that someone had grown up. I suppose that it was a blessing that I was brought up poor and working class. I could not afford to buy cigarettes and I should probably be grateful for that fact now, as it meant that I never took up the habit.
A couple of hon. Members have referred to the harrowing experience of losing a parent to cancer. I share that experience, although it was not smoking-related in my case. It is important that the education on smoking that I never received as a child, nor for several years afterwards, is now available to our younger generation. It was normal for me to see every adult around me smoking, but that is not normal now. If one goes past a place of work, however, there will be a group of people outside smoking, leaving a carpet of cigarette ends on the ground. That is a cause for complaint for all the non-smokers in that organisation, who know that smokers get smoking breaks from time to time during the day that they do not.
In a previous life, when I worked in local government, the one recreation room for staff had to be surrendered to the smokers because the council was obliged to provide a smoking room. It had glass walls, and as one walked around, all one could see was a great fug of smoke. Again, people in there were spending time on breaks that non-smokers were not allowed to take.
I pay tribute to the schools in Hornchurch and Upminster for the important work they are doing to educate our children from the youngest age. They have citizenship classes and school councils, and they take anti-smoking education extremely seriously.
The purpose of plain packaging is mainly to deter young people from taking up smoking and, hopefully, to deter established smokers. As has become obvious, there is consensus on both sides of the House that we should do everything we can to deter young people from taking up smoking and to enable them to understand the health implications of which people were not aware years ago. When I was a child, the health implications of smoking were never mentioned.
The first question we need to ask ourselves is: would plain packaging work? Secondly, what would be the effect on illicit tobacco sales and products? Finally, what would be the effect on small retailers and the design and packaging industry? Several speakers have referred to the fact that plain packaging has been introduced in Australia, but that was only about a year ago. I think that it is far too soon for us to make a credible evaluation of how effective the measure has been on young new smokers and existing smokers.
In 2008, the Department of Health identified the predictors of smoking initiation as age, gender, home environment, drug use and alcohol. Truancy and exclusion from school were also factors, but not packaging or the appearance of tobacco products—and, strangely, not price. When I was young, price was the one thing that stopped me smoking. Had I been able to afford it, I probably would have tried it. The NHS study “Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2011” reported that 5% of 11 to 15-year-olds smoked regularly—that is, at least one cigarette a week. That sounds to me as though one child who could afford a packet of cigarettes was handing them around to their friends. That was half the number reported in 2001 and it compared favourably with the 6% who said that they had taken drugs in the past month.
There are better solutions to reduce the number of young people who take up smoking. Such smoking is at an all-time low of 5%, but we need to do more. We must not underestimate the influence of fashion and trends on young people, and if smoking becomes the in thing again, that percentage could rise.
On the question of smoking becoming fashionable again, what is my hon. Friend’s view on recent concerns about electronic cigarettes? Of course, they are not covered by the 2007 legislation and they can be smoked indoors in bars, clubs, pubs and restaurants. Recently, e-cigarette fluid has been marketed in champagne, vodka and bubblegum flavours. Is she concerned about that?
I must confess that I have tried e-cigarettes. I tried an apple-flavoured one, and it was quite an attractive, comforting thing to do.
I was a co-signatory to the open letter from my hon. Friend Ian Paisley that highlighted the dangers posed by plain packaging to jobs, businesses, tax revenue and the legal trade due to increased smuggling and counterfeiting. Plain packaging would make smuggling easier and cheaper, and such products could be manufactured without regulation or quality control—I am told that some contain quite noxious additives. That situation could only exacerbate the associated criminality and revenue loss.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estimates that in my constituency of Hornchurch and Upminster, and those of other hon. Members, up to one in six cigarettes and 48% of hand-rolling tobacco is already illegal, costing the Exchequer up to £3 billion a year. If plain packaging were introduced, those figures would undoubtedly rise.
Plain packaging would also have a negative impact on small convenience stores. The display ban that is already in place in large stores will cover small shops in 2015. Most customers make additional purchases when buying their cigarettes and that custom is essential to the viability of small shops. I was in my local newsagent recently, standing behind somebody who was buying a packet of cigarettes. There was a warning on it in big, bold letters to the effect that smoking can kill. One could not possibly miss it, so that person had made a conscious choice to disregard the warning on the packet.
Plain packaging would also have a devastating effect on the supply chain for the tobacco sector, particularly as regards the design and production of branded packaging. That would stifle innovation, development and competition. It would be likely that lobby groups would continue to campaign for other product groups, such as alcohol or certain foods, to be subject to similar measures. That would be the thin end of the wedge, and it would pose a further threat to the design and packaging sectors and to the freedom of customers to make informed choices.
The Government are already investing significantly in anti-smoking measures. Anyone who wants to stop can get smoking cessation courses free of charge. We have television adverts and hoardings on the street, and there cannot be anybody in the country who does not know the health risks of smoking. People make a choice about whether to do it. As far as children are concerned, the principal responsibility lies with their parents, who should know how much money their children have to spend—a packet of cigarettes is very expensive—and how they spend it unsupervised.
I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing this important debate. Like him, I am an officer of the all-party group on smoking and health, and I also believe that tobacco control transcends the usual party differences. In my years in the House, that has certainly been the case for anti-tobacco policy.
Members will know that back in 2006 the previous Labour Government conceded a free vote on ending smoking in enclosed public places. The vote was won by a majority of more than 200, which showed that the proposal had strong support. The Government might want to find a similar means of getting themselves out of their awkward position, as they have been accused of being in bed with the tobacco industry due to blocking the introduction of standardised packaging. The Children and Families Bill, which is now in Committee in the other place, might present such an opportunity.
The hon. Member for Harrow East rightly drew our attention to the fact that most smokers start their lethal addiction when they are children and that, for many years, the tobacco industry has advertised and marketed its products to make them as attractive to young people as possible. We all know that eight out of 10 smokers start by the age of 19 and that more than 207,000 11 to 15-year-olds become smokers each year. One in two of them, if they remain smokers, will die a premature death. In this country, in the region of 100,000 premature deaths a year are caused by the habit of smoking.
I am sorry that Mr Evans is no longer in the Chamber. He made the argument that the 12 million smokers in this country were all adults. Of course, most of them are adults—that is absolutely true—but at what age did they start smoking? Statistics on the number of people who start smoking at the age of 21 are insignificant. I started smoking years before I could legally buy cigarettes. I was smoking at the age of 12, and I stopped at the age of 24. The vast majority of people I was at secondary school with smoked. We were just trying to emulate other people. I also came from a poor, working-class family, and in theory there was not the money to buy cigarettes, but we used to find it. I say to Dame Angela Watkinson that if we look at the incidence of smoking now, social classes 4 and 5 have the majority of smokers and of premature deaths.
The importance of packaging is well understood by the tobacco companies. They dodge the existing health warnings and packaging requirements with great skill and ingenuity. I draw the attention of the House to the packaging of Benson & Hedges Silver Slide. Benson & Hedges in this country is owned by Japan Tobacco International, one of the big four international companies. People slide the cigarettes out of the pack, so it is not the standard packaging that was around when I was smoking back in the 1950s and 1960s. The outside of the Silver Slide package looks pretty normal but, unlike most packs, it is opened by pressing the side opening where it says “Push and Slide”, which exposes a tray containing the cigarettes. Printed on the tray are the words:
“I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite”, which is a quote from G. K. Chesterton. The initials B&H are highlighted for a little extra brand identity on the slide. I suggest that the design has the obvious purpose of reinforcing a key tobacco industry marketing message that has been used with success for many years, particularly to recruit young people to smoke and to discourage quitters. That message is pretty simple—smoking is cool and an act of rebellion, and it is adult and transgressive. The hon. Member for Harrow East rightly pointed out that that marketing strategy is set out clearly in the internal documents that were published as a result of the US master settlement agreement with the industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the advertising in America for Vogue cigarettes, which says:
“The Vogue cigarette style was based on 1950s couture. The cigarettes that are preferred by women from across the world. Their lengthened appearance is an attribute of their femininity”?
Does he think that that is another example of the industry aiming to glamorise smoking?
It is indeed. The packages themselves are there to attract young women. I have an empty packet in my office that demonstrates exactly that. The idea that packaging is not used to sell products or advertise them effectively is a nonsense. The Silver Slide design is intended deliberately to undercut the health warnings that the law now requires on each packet.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley talked about adverts and bill posters, and said that he could only understand the part at the bottom. When I introduced a private Member’s Bill in 1994 to get rid of tobacco advertising and promotion, it was pretty clear that most of the adverts on billboards were not understood by some people. They were deliberately designed for the inquiring mind. There would be a picture of a piece of silk with a cut halfway down the middle. The advert did not say Silk Cut cigarettes; it did not have to. However, who are the ones with inquiring minds? They are young people. Tobacco companies did that deliberately for many years, and the G. K. Chesterton quote is to get young people to say that they can take this on, and that they are not bothered about what people say.
In Australia, it has been decided that there should be no branding on tobacco packaging other than the product name shown in a standard font, size and colour. No other trade marks, logos, colour schemes and graphics are permitted. Colours and graphics have been selling cigarettes in this country for decades. In Australia, cigarette packs should not carry attractive designs and should therefore come in standard shape, size and colours, and the colours should be as unattractive as possible. There should be prominent health warnings front and back, in pictures as well as writing, and there should be a phone number and web address on every pack to help smokers to access quit services.
There are 100,000 premature deaths a year from tobacco smoking in this country. If those deaths had been caused by anything else in the 30 years that I have been in Parliament, this House would have been sitting 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until we could find a way to stop it. It is no good the Government saying that they will wait. We know what tobacco marketing has been like for decades. We have stopped most of it, and we should stop this advertising at the point of use as well.
In an area such as Salford, 1,000 young people—the figure was 1,100 in Barnsley—will start to smoke this year. If I am called to make a speech, I will talk about that. Ten months, a year or 18 months of delay will cause 1,000 or 1,500 young people in an area such as mine to start smoking, and that is a tragedy.
And another 207,000 nationally will start this habit a year.
One might ask why people buy a packet of cigarettes when it has a warning on it, but this is an addiction. All sorts of addictions sadly roll over common sense, and tobacco is no different. Stopping young people from starting is crucial, and that is working. Smoking rates for young children are diminishing now, as are rates for adults, partly as a result of taxation and partly because we are stopping tobacco companies from promoting cigarettes.
There are no figures to show that counterfeiting is more likely with plain packaging. Earlier this year, the Japanese company came to the House and told us that there would be more counterfeiting, but there is no evidence of that. It showed us—I have one in my pocket —a counterfeit packet. It looks like any other Benson & Hedges packet, so counterfeiting happens now. Standard packaging could include features to protect against counterfeiting, and it is for the House to regulate to introduce them. Hon. Members should not use the arguments that have been sold by the tobacco companies year after year. When it was found that tobacco related to massive numbers of deaths, the companies were still questioning that decades after the event—they still do now. They use this House to do it on occasions and, I have to say, it is wrong. When there are 100,000 premature deaths a year, we as legislators have some responsibility to alleviate the problem. I know that smoking is addictive and it is difficult for people to stop.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no young child can become addicted to cigarettes unless their parents provide them with the money to buy them?
My father used to provide me with cigarettes; the only thing was that he did not know about it. I used to go in his packet of Woodbines and take one out, and he did not count them very often. That was how I started smoking on the street at a very early age. If we put the price up, of course it will reduce the consumption of cigarettes, but we need to stop young people starting.
I rise as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, a fellow officer of the all-party group, on securing this important debate, which is an important opportunity for the House to continue to put pressure on the Government to move on this issue. I am a co-sponsor of the debate. It should come as no surprise that the APPG strongly supports effective action to reduce the harm that is caused by tobacco. I welcome the contributions from Alex Cunningham, my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis, all of whom set out compellingly the piles of evidence that show the effectiveness of standardised packaging as a further aid to tobacco control and reduction of the harm that tobacco does. That surely has to be a key goal of public health policy in this country.
Reducing the number of people dying from preventable disease and of people living with chronic disease has to be a key part of what this debate is all about. How do we address that? By tackling risk factors—in this case, the risky behaviour of taking up smoking in the first place. A variety of interventions can make a difference. In this country over the past few years, parliamentary action and parliamentary pressure has persuaded Governments to do something. I congratulate Mr Barron on his initiative when he was Chair of the Health Select Committee to enable the Labour Government to bring in via a free vote the ban on smoking in enclosed public places.
No Government have a particularly good record of leadership in this area. Most Governments tend to have to be led by this place. That is why we are having this debate today, and I hope the Government will take their lead from this House and the other place, because both Houses have a cross-party unity of purpose in addressing these issues. We have seen that progress over the years.
Over the past 15 years the combination of measures has made a difference. Smoking prevalence has fallen among adults by a quarter and among children by as much as half. More clearly remains to be done, as the debate so far has demonstrated. Smoking is still a major cause of preventable disease and death. It far outweighs the next six major causes. When it comes to public health and to children and young people, we have a special duty, over and above that which we owe to all our fellow citizens. That duty is clear: we should act. Above all, standardised packaging is about protecting children and young people, as has been said in this debate.
Big tobacco must attract children. Why? Because its product kills 100,000 of its customers every year in this country, and it needs to replace those dead customers. The evidence is clear. Smoking is a childhood addiction, not an adult choice. We need to understand that. Some 40% of smokers are addicted by the age of 16, and two thirds are addicted by the age of 18. Two hundred thousand children take up smoking every year and about 530 of them do so in my borough, the London borough of Sutton. Very few people start smoking over the age of 20, as we have heard.
The focus on the recruitment of children has been admitted by big tobacco. The tobacco industry knows how sensitive children and young people are to brands of all sorts. Removing the brightly coloured packaging has been shown to make a difference. It has made those products less attractive to children.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises addiction, but have we not heard, even in this debate, that this is addiction marketed as freedom?
Absolutely, and that is the most pernicious part of it. It is addiction posing as freedom of choice, whereas once they are addicted, people have lost their freedom of choice, and it is very hard to step back from that.
On the subject of free choice, I am interested to hear that three-quarters of smokers take up smoking between the ages of 16 and 18. If people are not capable of exercising free choice at the age of 16, why does the right hon. Gentleman think it right that the Lib Dems have a policy of reducing the voting age to 16?
To make sure that the record is clear, I said that two thirds of smokers are addicted by the age of 18. It is entirely right that we have the debate on the voting age. The House has voted on the matter and has supported the idea that we should allow people to exercise a democratic choice at the age of 16, but that is not today’s debate. Although I would hope that voting was an addictive behaviour, it is not, and getting people to vote at an earlier age is more likely to get the participation rate up. That is why I support it and why my party does as well.
Let me move on to another point about what the industry has as its agenda. Imperial Tobacco’s global brand director, Geoff Good, has said that package redesign has been worth
“over £60 million in additional turnover and a significant profit improvement. . . the UK had become a dark market, the pack design was the only part of the mix that was changed, and therefore we knew the cause and effect.”
That was in 2006. Tobacco advertising is already banned in the UK. The branding and brightly coloured packaging clearly meet the legal definition already in existence. They are a form of commercial communication with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting a tobacco product. In the words of Imperial Tobacco’s global brand director, Geoff Good,
“pack design was the only part of the mix that was changed”.
The cause and effect are clear. Package-based advertising should be banned.
In earlier contributions to the debate, reference was made to some types of packaging. One example was Vogue cigarettes. The packet looks like a lipstick container or a perfume product. It is intended to convey the glamour of smoking, about which Dame Angela Watkinson spoke earlier.
I have a question for the Minister, which she might be able to address in her contribution later. It concerns the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control. I understand that the UK plans to sign the protocol on the elimination of illicit trade in tobacco products. The protocol makes it clear that arrangements for tracking and tracing tobacco products should be independent of the tobacco industry. In other words, the industry should not be allowed to self-police. Does the Minister agree that the EU draft revision of the EU tobacco products directive should give full effect to the World Health Organisation protocol to ensure independence of action for our enforcement agencies in dealing with the illicit trade?
I welcome the Minister’s remark at Health questions a week ago that she was examining the issue “very carefully”. However, having already considered the evidence, her predecessor made it clear in the House and elsewhere that she supports the measure, as does my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health. Why do we still have to wait for the Australian scheme to be tested further? We know after the first 11 months that it has been bedding in well. As we have heard already, it is having a material effect on consumer behaviour. Consumers are reporting that they think the same product tastes different. The same product is less attractive. Standardised packaging is affecting behaviour, which is a key element of this drive.
There is clear and sustained public support for standardised packaging. National polls show that two thirds of the public want to see the Government act on this agenda. When my local paper, the Sutton Guardian, ran a poll recently, it found that 80% of those who took part in that poll backed standardised packaging. Other nations in the United Kingdom are choosing to act. Other nations in Europe are choosing to act. The evidence is mounting, as is the death toll and as is the recruitment of children and young people to this pernicious habit. May we now see action? May we have something that children and young people deserve—this Government and this Parliament acting to protect them from the harm of smoking? Standardisation of packaging is the next step in effective tobacco control and I hope the Government will take that step soon.
I congratulate Bob Blackman, my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham, my right hon. Friend Mr Barron and Paul Burstow on securing the debate on this important subject. We need to keep focusing on the issue because it has a great impact on the health of our constituents and most of all on the children and young people in our constituencies.
As an MP representing Salford, I want to speak today because, as others have said about their constituencies, smoking, smoking-related deaths and lung cancer rates are all too high in Salford. One in four of the population in Salford smoke, which is a higher rate than the national average of one in five people in England as a whole. As a consequence, we have much higher rates of smoking-related death in Salford and a higher incidence of lung cancer, with 175 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year. The right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that it was estimated that 530 children in his borough would start smoking this year. In Salford, sadly, the figure is nearly 1,000—almost double.
As we have heard in the debate, so many smokers, estimated at eight out of 10, start by the age of 19 and one in two of those young people will die of smoking-related diseases if they become long-term smokers. We know and we should continue to reflect upon the fact that this habit is the biggest cause of premature death in the UK and long-term smokers have a life expectancy that is 10 years shorter than non-smokers.
There has been some debate about the early evidence from Australia on the introduction of plain packaging. It suggests to me that branded cigarette boxes influence the perception of smoking among young people, and that plain packaging can help in the fight against starting smoking. That is why the issue is important and it is largely what I shall speak about here. As the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said, 70% of those interviewed in a study in Australia who smoked from plain packets said that they thought the cigarettes were “less satisfying”. That is an important finding. They rated quitting as a higher priority than those who continued to smoke from a branded pack did.
A separate study found that 80% of children interviewed rated plain cigarette packs as “uncool”. Members who have spoken so far have rightly focused on how much packaging influences that perception of cool, because brands are very important to young people. Those are powerful findings from Australia.
I believe that there is weight behind the argument that cigarette packaging is the last legal form of tobacco advertising and that it has an influence on young people’s perception of smoking. That in itself is why we should take action to introduce plain packaging.
In the excellent Westminster Hall debate on
“I have never forgotten the first time that I bought a packet of cigarettes.”
She deliberately chose a particular brand
“because they were green, gorgeous and a symbol of glamour.”
“I distinctly remember the power of that package. It was the opening of the cellophane and the gold and the silver that was so powerfully important to many people who, as youngsters, took up smoking.”—[Hansard, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 23WH.]
That was a very honest admission from a Health Minister, but she still went on to adopt the “wait and see” approach that we are getting from the Government. The health of our young people does not have time for wait and see.
In the previous Parliament we introduced a ban on smoking in public places, and I was very pleased to be a Member of this House when we voted for that. I visited Copenhagen earlier this year and found myself in public places where people were lighting up cigarettes. I was surprised, because it is easy to forget how unpleasant it is to be in a public place where people are smoking and to come home with clothes and hair reeking of smoke. It is very unfamiliar to us now. Much worse, of course, are the health impacts for the people in those places who do not want to inhale smoke.
My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis outlined the steps that have already been taken to make smoking less attractive. Tobacco advertising has been banned from TV, billboards and sports such as Formula 1. Surely the next step is to tackle the advertising on the packaging.
In 1950 the figures were much higher: around 80% of men and 40% of women smoked. Amazingly, cigarette advertising at the time used images of doctors and celebrities to promote the different brands. One brand even used images of Santa Claus smoking—imagine that in the run-up to Christmas—to prove that it was easy on the throat. In the Westminster Hall debate my hon. Friend Chris Ruane told me about a cigarette pack currently being sold—we have heard today from the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam about some of the packs available—and described it as
“a lovely 1950s retro pack, which opens up to show nice pink cigarettes inside”—[Hansard, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 18WH.]
Those packs are targeted at young teenage girls, and that is very cynical advertising. As I have said, the early evidence suggests that the attractiveness of the brand does have an impact, especially on young people, who are so impressionable. We know that the colour pink is being used because it is attractive to young teenage girls.
Early reports suggest that plain packaging can make such a big difference by changing perceptions of smoking. That is important for our children. A review commissioned by the Department of Health and the Public Health Research Consortium showed that standardised packaging was less attractive, more effective in conveying messages about the health implications of smoking and more likely to reduce the mistaken belief that some brands are safer than others, meaning the old idea that flavourings or menthol make it less damaging, which is also untrue. All the evidence suggests that plain tobacco packaging greatly reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes for children, and Australia’s stance is supported by the World Health Organisation.
I want briefly to congratulate stop smoking services in Salford, particularly on their programmes focused on reducing smoking in families with children under 16. If children do not see their parents smoking, they are less likely to start smoking themselves. Many of our programmes in Salford are targeted at those families.
All the tobacco advertising I have talked about is pernicious. However it is done, whether with slim packages, colouring or making it look like perfume, it focuses on young people, and particularly young women who want to remain slim. It is almost unbelievable that tobacco companies used to use Santa Claus and doctors to promote smoking and try to persuade us that it was safe. I do not want to continue to see 1,000 young people in Salford start smoking each year. It is time we took the next important step to close down cigarette advertising by introducing plain packs. It is time to prevent our children starting smoking. It is time the Government supported the amendment to the Children and Families Bill that will take that important step. Above all, it is time to reduce the large numbers of people affected by smoking-related illness and early death, both in Salford and across the country.
It is a pleasure to follow Barbara Keeley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on securing the debate and the other Members who went to the Backbench Business Committee to ensure that it took place. However, my comments will not be particularly supportive of my hon. Friend’s views on the issue. I look at the matter from the perspective of a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which recently produced a significant report on the impact of tobacco smuggling on the loss of tax revenue in the UK. Having seen the evidence, I came to the strong conclusion that the case for plain packaging is certainly unproven.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South said that she wanted to ensure that 1,000 children in her constituency do not take up smoking. I wonder what the evidence is to suggest that those 1,000 children will not take up smoking simply because of a change in the product’s packaging. Mr Barron explained that he started smoking by stealing cigarettes from his father. I wonder whether his father’s choice of brand had any significant impact on his decision to steal a single cigarette. When I was growing up in Caernarfon, when people wanted to smoke they went to a local post office to buy singles. I suspect that they gave no consideration whatsoever to the brand; the point was that they could buy cigarettes very cheaply, usually one at a time. It was an important development when that was made an illegal practice that would not be tolerated. However, it is still the case that the driver is the price, not the branding. That is what I want to talk about.
When the Public Accounts Committee researched the smuggling of tobacco products into the UK, some of the information that emerged from that work was shocking. For example, in the top 10 recognised consumer brands of cigarettes in this country there are often two or three that are illicit and that it is illegal to supply in this country—for example Jin Ling, Richman and Raquel. Strictly speaking, those brands should not be available and so they would not be affected by legislation on plain packaging, yet independent consumer surveys show that those brands, despite being illicit and illegal, are recognised by the public.
The question we must ask, therefore, is why and how those brands are gaining a foothold in this country. Clearly it is unacceptable that they are smuggled into the country, and at such a rate that they are now recognised consumer brands. The key point we must recognise is that the driver for the sale of those products is not the branding or the so-called attractive packaging; it is the price. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs between £7.50 and £8. My son, who is lucky enough to have a paper round, would have to spend half his weekly wage if he decided to buy a packet of cigarettes legally, yet he could go out to any estate or high street in my constituency and, if he was switched on, find a packet of illicit tobacco for between £2 and £2.50.
I therefore argue that the driver encouraging young people to start smoking is more likely to be the price than the branding. If a young person can buy a packet of 20 cigarettes for 15% or 20% of their weekly paper round wage, they would be more tempted to do so than if they could buy it for 50% of their wage. By concentrating on plain packaging, we are ignoring an important fact: price is a driver for the sale of these products.
Time and again hon. Members have argued that plain packaging is about protecting young people, yet in university towns the young people often smoke roll-your-owns. The figure for roll-your-own tobacco is absolutely atrocious. In my constituency, which has no higher education facility, 48% of loose-leaf tobacco will be smuggled and illicit. The vast majority will not be recognised UK brands. In any town with a university or further education college, the percentage of illegal and smuggled loose-leaf tobacco will be even higher. What is the driver? What is persuading young people to buy tobacco products that are not officially marketed in the United Kingdom? The answer, I argue, is price.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that people who are already addicted, such as older students, will smoke anything, but that is not surprising. We have repeatedly argued that young people get addicted in their early teens, and his arguments do not negate that.
The hon. Lady completely misrepresents my view. I said clearly at the outset that the temptation for young people is much enhanced if the product is affordable, and I think she fully understood my point.
It is important to recognise the problem of illicit and smuggled products because evidence—yes, to be tested and argued about—has been presented to suggest that plain packaging will actually make it easier for these products to be made available. I am fully aware that there are arguments on both sides. However, what is being said in this debate is, in effect, that the Government’s decision to wait to look at the evidence from Australia somehow indicates that they are in league with the tobacco companies. I find that quite distasteful.
I genuinely approach this debate from the point of view that I would like the number of people who smoke to be reduced—to nothing, I hope. I have never smoked, and if any of my children smoked I would be absolutely furious. Indeed, I lost my father to lung cancer at the young age of 63. My children never saw their grandfather simply because of his smoking. If the evidence was clear that plain packaging would be the answer, I would be supportive. I find it very odd that Members are saying that looking at the evidence is somehow condemning people to die. That is emotional and unacceptable language.
When Populus recently surveyed a number of police officers about whether they thought that plain packaging would be helpful, 86% of them clearly stated that they thought it would make it easier for illicit tobacco products to be supplied and that those products would be targeted at young people who could afford them. Sixty-eight per cent. of the police officers thought that plain packaging would lead to an increase in the size of the black economy in relation to tobacco products. A full 62% thought that an increase in cheap tobacco products would result in an increase in the use of tobacco products by children. Those are very interesting and important findings from a poll of police officers. Are their views correct? We need to look at the evidence and consider very carefully whether it supports them.
In relation to illicit trade, the latest figures from HMRC, at a mid-point estimate, show that the market share of illicit cigarettes has fallen from 15% in 2006-07 to 9% in 2010-11. There is no evidence that this is not going the right way; it is enforcement that we lack.
The right hon. Gentleman should perhaps read the report by the Public Accounts Committee, which presented evidence that there has been an uplift since 2010-11. I thought that the whole point of this Chamber was to debate on the basis of the facts, and that we liked evidence to be up to date. If he wants to quote evidence from 2010-11, that is absolutely fine, but I refer him to the PAC report, which has updated figures. It is interesting that he would probably be very supportive of today’s PAC report on universal credit, but when the facts do not suit him he seems to ignore them.
The key thing we need to remember is that time and again this place has legislated in haste. There is a significant question mark over both sides of the debate. What the Government have said is very simple: let us see the evidence and consider it. If the evidence from Australia and other countries that decide to go down this route proves that there has been a reduction in the use of tobacco products, a reduction in illicit tobacco being taken into the country, a fall in the availability of illicit products, and a fall in the number of smuggled products, it would be worth taking the issue extremely seriously and moving to legislate. However, the argument advanced by some hon. Members is about their prejudice rather than the facts. We should congratulate the Government on being willing to wait and legislate correctly rather than acting in haste and possibly contributing to and supporting the behaviour of people who are making tobacco products available to young people not at £7.50 or £8 but at £2.50 or less.
We should consider very carefully what is tempting young people to take up smoking. I am very clearly of the view that the temptation is not necessarily branding but more likely to be price. Labour Members might like to have a good feeling about doing something in this place to help young people, but they should do it on the basis of facts, not their ill-informed opinions.
I am delighted to have a chance to speak in this Back-Bench debate, and I add my congratulations to Bob Blackman on securing it. I will make a few brief comments because many issues that I would have mentioned have already been covered by other right hon. and hon. Members.
I absolutely support the principle of standardised packaging of tobacco. I believe that it should have been introduced a long time ago and that it should have had a higher priority than a ban on point-of-sale displays. That is because introducing standardised packaging would have resulted in the end of displays of cigarettes, as the adverts that those displays created would no longer be created by standardised packets.
The decision not to proceed with standardised packaging has rightly been criticised. Questions about whether advisers have unduly influenced senior Conservative politicians are perfectly legitimate and do not seem to have been properly addressed. However, equally disturbing are the interventions by the unions, with bogus claims that standardised packaging will result in significant job losses in the packaging industry. I would have hoped that Labour Members would be just as vocal in condemning those interventions as they have been in questioning the influence of Conservative party advisers, but sadly not.
The Government’s argument for delaying a decision on standardised packaging was based on a perceived lack of empirical evidence that it would discourage young people from taking up smoking. I would have thought the fact that the tobacco industry has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, and more, in trying to lobby against standardised packaging would be evidence enough. Why would it spend so much money on trying to stop something happening if it was not going to have an impact on levels of smoking?
If that is not evidence enough, may I bring to the Minister’s attention early-day motion 559, in my name, which highlights research by the British Heart Foundation into standardised packaging for cigarettes in Australia? It interviewed 2,500 young people and found that more Australian teenagers than UK teenagers had been discouraged from taking up smoking, owing to the standardised packaging. Fifty-nine per cent. of Australian teenagers said that standardised packaging deters them from smoking, and 77% of UK teenagers and 66% of
Australian teenagers support it. If that is still not enough for the Minister, perhaps she could look at the findings of the study by Cancer Council Victoria, which showed that when young people view packs stripped of colours and logos, they believe that the cigarettes are lower quality, will taste worse and are less appealing.
In my opinion, the evidence is clear: standardised packaging does discourage young people from taking up smoking, and we should introduce it without delay. However, may I suggest to the Minister that we go one step further? A lot of research was carried out to work out the most unappealing colour scheme for the packaging. I think we should extend this to the cigarettes themselves, and as well as having grotty green-brown packets, we should have grotty green-brown cigarettes.
A lot of the points I was going to make have already been made, but I will start by saying that I absolutely support anything that is proven to reduce smoking. On that evidence-based test, I am delighted to congratulate the schools in my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen that have made fantastic progress on reducing the number of young people who take up smoking. Nationally, there is a good-news story to tell about the fall in the number of people who smoke and who take up smoking. The number is less than 20% of adults for the first time since records began, and there have been continued falls in the number of young people ever taking up smoking.
Many of us have had experience of cancer. Members, including my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, whom I congratulate on securing this debate, have spoken movingly about their own family experience with cancer. It is a horrendous disease and that is why I am growing a moustache for Movember.
I think that lots of people who smoke are realistic about the risks. There cannot be many of them who do not know that smoking has a direct link to cancer and that it ends lives more quickly than may otherwise be the case. Some 12 million people still exercise their free choice to smoke cigarettes, however.
Many of the Members who are in favour of plain packaging have said that it will be a next step, but what they really mean is that it will be the next step on the road to banning smoking. Let us not beat about the tobacco bush: if people want to ban smoking—a legitimate habit of 12 million people in this country—let us have a debate about it. Some have spoken about taking incremental steps towards banning smoking in cars. I was tempted to intervene on Alex Cunningham to ask how such a ban could be enforced, but I invite him to tell me now.
Nobody wanted to wear seat belts when legislation was introduced, but the vast majority of people started to do so. I think that about 90% now do so. I believe that people would adhere to a law if we introduced it. If not, we would need just a few cases in court and I am sure it would then start to happen.
I guess that the reason why people wear seat belts is that it is a criminal offence not to do so. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that smoking in cars should be made a criminal offence, that just reinforces my point about the desire of certain people on the other side of the debate to ban smoking. If that is what people want, we should have an active debate about it and give people who smoke legitimately an opportunity to have their say.
During this Parliament alone, the Government have increased NHS funding by £12 billion, given people access to the cancer drug fund and protected public spending with regard to local authority public health budgets. That is good progress and I am proud to be part of a Government delivering it. Limits on the display of tobacco products have also recently been introduced in larger stores. Anyone who has been to a supermarket recently will have seen the white signs that slide backwards and forwards to disguise tobacco products, and they will be introduced in smaller retailers in 2015. I support that and think it is a good thing.
The ban on vending machines in pubs is particularly good. I started smoking by buying cigarettes by the men’s loo in a pub in Liverpool, where I was brought up. It is the easiest way to buy cigarettes under age, so I am delighted with and support the ban. The way in which the Government have continued to increase tax on cigarettes has also been good. I think that making them more expensive discourages people from taking up smoking. I support all that action, but such action must be based on benefits.
I started on my anti-tobacco crusade 20 years ago this year when I promoted a private Member’s Bill. In all that time, the only person I have heard say that if tobacco was discovered now it would be banned was the then Conservative Secretary of State for Health, who now sits in the other place. As far as I know, it has never been part of the anti-tobacco campaign in this country to say that we want to ban people from smoking. What we want to do is prevent them from starting and save lives.
I think it is right to say that if tobacco was discovered toady it probably would be banned. I also think that if alcohol was discovered today it probably would be banned. That does not mean that we should seek to do so.
I am very pleased with the progress the Government have made. The evidence shows that we have reduced to a record low the number of people who smoke, but there are still things left on the to-do list. First and foremost, we need to look at the evidence from Australia. If it demonstrates that plain packaging has reduced the amount that people smoke, we should take it up and I would not oppose it. I do not accept, however, that that has yet been proven. Part of being in this House, in government or in opposition is to have an evidence-based debate about outcomes. I do not think that we have the evidence or that the outcome will be a reduction in the amount that people smoke. We also do not yet know the impact of disguising packages in supermarkets, which may have the effect we seek without increasing the regulation on the tobacco industry.
We need much more rigorous enforcement against under-age sales. It is illegal to buy cigarettes under the age of 18. People under that age can have consensual sex and they can go to Afghanistan to fight in the Army, and the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats think that they should have the right to vote, but they are not allowed to buy cigarettes. We should have much more rigorous enforcement of the existing laws against selling cigarettes to under-18s, rather than rush to introduce new laws on plain packaging and banning smoking in cars.
No, I will not.
The European Union has recently legislated on banning 10-cigarette packs and menthol cigarettes. I do not support the ban of 10-cigarette packs. People who smoke often purchase a packet of 10 cigarettes as a way of rationing themselves, and people who are trying to cut down on smoking will also buy them. I understand that this is about increasing the price of the first packet of cigarettes that someone buys, but making people buy 20 cigarettes at a time will increase the amount they smoke and encourage them to smoke more. That will be the unintended consequence of what is probably a well-intended piece of EU legislation and I am disappointed that the Government supported it.
Legislation banning menthol cigarettes also went through the European Parliament just a few weeks ago. I do not understand why the hundreds of thousands—millions even—of people in this country who smoke menthol cigarettes should have them taken away from them. People have to be able to make their own decisions. If they want to smoke normal or menthol cigarettes, they should be free to do so.
This House also needs to give much more attention to legislation with regard to electronic cigarettes. I do not smoke normal cigarettes. Having moved on to electronic cigarettes as a way of giving up, I know that they can be a hugely positive medicinal aid if someone is desperate to give up smoking. To talk about cigarettes as they are today is to talk about old technology. Within the next year or 18 months, in the United States of America more fluid for electronic cigarettes is likely to be sold than traditional cigarettes. It is a large, unregulated industry. We need to get a handle on it and an overview of it and scrutinise its potential benefits or, indeed, dangers. We need to start considering legislation with regard to electronic cigarettes and try to prevent young people from taking them up.
I know from experience in my local pub, the Robin Hood in Helmshore in my constituency, that more people are starting to smoke electronic cigarettes because they can do so while standing at the bar. Young people are starting to smoke them because they can get champagne, truffle, cherry and bubble gum flavours. We need to debate this important development in order to have some sort of control and to protect young people from, to be frank, the inappropriate glamorisation of the electronic cigarette.
This is the first time I have had the privilege of speaking with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I look forward to it.
I thank Bob Blackman for seeking this debate, the co-sponsors from all parties and the Backbench Business Committee for making it possible. It has been a very good debate, with many thoughtful and powerful contributions and, I think, a large degree of consensus. There is a clear reason for that consensus. In the final analysis, this is a debate about children. Adults do not take up smoking; children do. Despite hon. Members having referred to a drop in the take-up of smoking, more than 200,000 children still take up smoking every year. Eight out of 10 smokers start by the age of 19. As my right hon. Friend Mr Barron said, there are few new smokers over the age of 21. In my patch, there are 460 regular smokers across Liverpool who have not yet turned 15. As Paul Burstow said, we are talking about a childhood addiction, not an adult choice.
We know that about half of those children—half of all regular smokers—will eventually be killed by their addiction. Contrary to the presentation by Mr Evans, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, tobacco is different from other products, because if it is used properly, as instructed, it kills one in two of its users. It is the only product for which there is an international treaty, the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, precisely because it is not like any other product and has to be treated differently.
Smoking remains by far the largest preventable cause of cancer. As my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis said, more than 100,000 people die across the UK from smoking-related diseases every year. In Liverpool, 346 deaths per 100,000 are attributable to smoking, whereas the national average is 201 deaths per 100,000. Jake Berry spoke about NHS spending on the cancer drugs fund.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is whether we are doing everything we can to discourage children from starting to smoke in the first place. Contrary to what Guto Bebb said, I make no apology for asking the emotive questions. Are we doing all that we can to protect our young people? Have we exhausted every measure at our disposal? With that in mind, I want to cover three broad themes: first, why packaging matters so greatly; secondly, why the arguments against standardised packaging do not stand up to close scrutiny; and thirdly, why we cannot afford to wait.
I echo what was said by Alex Cunningham and for Barnsley Central and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley about the part that packaging plays in encouraging young people to smoke. It is widely accepted that in the years since the last Labour Government banned tobacco advertising in 2002, the tobacco industry has developed far more sophisticated ways of using packaging to entice people to smoke.
We have all seen what cigarette and tobacco packaging looks like in Britain today, with its bright colours, shiny veneers and slimmed-down packets. We have heard about the boxes shaped like perfume bottles and lipsticks, with the glamorous slogans to match. One slogan that struck me was,
“Indulgence—change the taste to suit your mood”.
Such novelty packets appeal to young people, because that is exactly what they are designed to do.
Academics at the university of Stirling tested that by surveying more than 1,000 children for a study that was published in the British Medical Journal a few weeks ago. They found that the children were overwhelmingly more attracted to the packets with such designs.
The hon. Lady has spoken about children starting to smoke. Does she agree that the main responsibility lies with their parents, because the money has to come from somewhere? If it does not come from their parents, where does it come from?
That point has been made by other hon. Members in this debate. I remember from when I was a young person that children do not get their money only from their parents and that they do not necessarily buy the cigarettes themselves. Often, they see other people getting out their packs of cigarettes.
The children in the university of Stirling study who were shown a packet of Silk Cut cigarettes were found to be more than four times more likely to be susceptible to smoking. Those were children who had never smoked.
It is the packaging that entices children. If we want to discourage children from ever starting to smoke, we need to question whether that is an acceptable way to market a product that is highly addictive, seriously harmful and clinically proven to kill. Smokers advertise tobacco brands to other people every time they take out their pack to smoke. The packets should not be glitzy adverts, but should carry strong and unambiguous health warnings about the dangers of smoking. We should not allow those warnings to be subverted by the design of the rest of the packet.
I will move on to my second theme. We have heard a few arguments against standardised packaging in this debate. We have also heard those arguments from the tobacco industry. I will deal with each of the arguments in turn. Much of the discussion has centred around evidence. Hon. Members have said that there is no evidence that standardised packaging will work. That is not true.
Last year, the systematic review by the Public Health Research Consortium, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, looked at all the evidence on standardised packaging. The findings are clear for everyone to see. It found that standardised packaging is less attractive, especially to young people. My hon. Friend Barbara Keeley rightly pointed out that it takes away the cool factor. The review also found that standardised packaging makes health warnings more effective and combats the utter falsehood that some brands are safer than others. Those findings have been backed up by 17 studies that have been published since the systematic review. Government Members, including the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, have asked for evidence. We have the evidence.
A separate study that was published in the British Medical Journal in July looked at research from Australia soon after the introduction of standardised packaging. It found that smokers who used standardised packs were 66% more likely to think that their cigarettes were of a poorer quality, 70% more likely to say that they found them less satisfying, 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day in the previous week and much more likely to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers who used branded packs. Not only are people less likely to take up smoking when presented with standardised packs; people who already smoke are more likely to think about quitting if the cigarettes that they buy come in standardised packaging.
My hon. Friend is being very generous with her time. Jake Berry seemed to be quite satisfied with the Government’s action on this issue, although that is perhaps not surprising given the views that he has put forward in this debate. However, it is a fact that fewer people have quit smoking successfully and that fewer people have attempted to quit with NHS help over the last year. That is the first time since 2008-09 that those figures have fallen. I talked about quit services in Salford, but such services are now less successful and there must be a reason for that. Does my hon. Friend take that as seriously as I do?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. The figures that came out just the other week do show a drop in the number of people who are quitting smoking through NHS services. I am very concerned about that. As I said at the start of my contribution, 200,000 young people still take up smoking every year. That is exactly what we are seeking to address in this debate.
“flood of calls…in the days after the introduction of plain packaging accusing the Government of changing the taste of cigarettes.”
She went on to say:
“Of course there was no reformulation of the product. It was just that people being confronted with the ugly packaging made the psychological leap to disgusting taste.”
That is a significant point. Far from there being no evidence, there is a swathe of evidence.
The second claim raised during our debate is that standardised packaging would increase trade in counterfeit cigarettes, or impact on the printing trade. Again, it is important to clarify that we are talking about standardised packaging. I have heard hon. Members use the term “plain packaging”, but we are not discussing that. I know I am not allowed to demonstrate this at the Dispatch Box, Madam Deputy Speaker, but standardised packaging is clearly printed; it is not a plain pack. Current packaging is already so easy to forge that covert markings enable enforcement officials to identify counterfeit cigarettes, and all key security features on existing packets would continue on standardised packets. Standardised packaging would make pictorial warnings more prominent and packaging harder to forge.
We heard in an important contribution that standardised packaging might lead to an increase in illicit trade, but that is simply not true. Andrew Leggett, deputy director for tobacco and alcohol strategy at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, stated in oral evidence to the House of Lords European Union sub-Committee on
“There are a number of potential factors that weigh on counterfeit packaging”, but that if standardised packaging was introduced, it was
“very doubtful that it would have a material effect.”
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way to give her a chance to find her place. Does she acknowledge that the Government’s current policy on standardised or plain packaging is exactly the same as it was under the previous Government?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention but more than three years have passed since that point. I am immensely proud of everything the Labour Government did through their tobacco strategy to reduce smoking. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central about the many measures we introduced, but we must do more and go further, and in my concluding remarks I will say why I am disappointed with the Government’s current approach.
The third claim I want to counter is that the proposed changes to tobacco packaging are somehow a symptom of the nanny state. People should, of course, be allowed to make their own decisions, but we should not be standing by while industry sets honey traps and uses every means at its disposal to try to make those decisions for them. Nearly all new smokers are children, we are dealing with an addictive product that is clinically proven to kill, and smoking rates are higher among the most vulnerable groups in our society, particularly children in residential care. That is why today’s debate is so important.
I will conclude with my most important point, which is why we cannot afford to delay. The Minister has previously made clear that the Government’s position is to wait and see. Her predecessor did the same, despite saying that she personally had been persuaded of the case for standardised packaging a few months previously. Just today, about 570 children across the country, none of them older than 15, will have their first cigarette, and approximately 71 will have done so while we have been debating this subject. If we wait and see, we will be standing idly by while hundreds of thousands of young people become victim to this deadly addiction.
The Opposition have made their position clear. If the Government wish to bring forward legislation to make standardised packaging a reality, they can count on our full support. That was our position before the Government changed their mind about this issue in July, and it is our position now. The Children and Families Bill is making its way through the other place. Labour has tabled an amendment to that Bill to introduce standardised packaging that will be debated in the coming weeks and voted on later this year. That simple measure would make a huge difference and is clearly supported by Members on all sides of the House. On behalf of those 71 children who have started smoking during this debate, and the 200,000 who will start every year, I urge the Minister and her Government colleagues to do the right thing and support our amendment. Let us save future generations from the perils of smoking.
It is a genuine pleasure to respond to this Backbench Business Committee debate. I was a member of the Committee when my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who initiated the debate, made a bid for it, although at the time I did not expect to respond to it, so I am in an interesting position. My hon. Friend made a great bid and we have had a terrific debate. I am grateful for the contributions from all hon. Members.
It is good that we are debating this important issue now. It has been helpful for me, as a new Minister, to hear arguments put so eloquently from across the House, and I will try to respond to some of the specific points made and to set out the Government’s position. I recognise that I will disappoint some people, but I will try to give a flavour of the Government’s current position and mention some of the important measures we are taking on tobacco control.
As many hon. Members have said, tobacco use remains one of our most significant public health challenges. For me as a new Minister, over the past month briefing after briefing and chart after chart have illustrated how important and what a significant public health challenge tobacco control is. There is no question in my mind that it is an essential aspect of any Government’s commitment to reduce the number of people dying prematurely in our country, and it is essential to promoting the health and well-being of children. A number of speakers have made the point that two thirds of smokers say they were regular smokers before they became adults. Many have spoken about adult choice, but we must recognise that by the time many people are addicted to smoking, they are already an adult and the addiction started as a child.
As hon. Members know, the Government have decided to wait before deciding on standardised packaging, but I do not recognise some of the time frames that people have ascribed to our position. I said that during Health questions, and I repeat that the policy remains under active consideration.
Interesting points have been raised in the debate, including about emerging evidence from Australia and studies carried out elsewhere, some of which the shadow Minister referred to in her contribution. Evidence and information is emerging all the time, and we want to spend more time assimilating that information and considering the likely effect that standardised packaging would have in this country. It is sensible and sound politics, particularly when dealing with a controversial area and a litigious industry, to show the stages by which we reach a decision, and I am sure that Members appreciate that we must be able to evidence that decision.
If we are going to allow another half a million young people to take up smoking over the next three years while the Government decide whether to introduce plain packaging, what measures will the Minister take to hit the big numbers that we know plain packaging—or standardised packaging—could affect?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman corrected himself, because it is important that we do not call it plain packaging—it is standardised. I hear his point and will move on to address some of the specific issues. Many people have cited such numbers.
The Government are following discussions in another place closely. Beyond that, I am not able to comment in this debate, but we are well aware of those discussions and Ministers are participating in them.
Australia introduced standardised packaging in December 2012, and New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland have committed to do that. In addition, other academic studies are emerging about the effects of that policy.
The UK has a long and respected tobacco control tradition internationally, although at times in this debate it has been possible to miss that point. Under successive Governments the UK’s record has been good, and we will continue to implement our existing plan to reduce smoking rates while keeping the policy of standardised packaging under active review. The tobacco control plan for England sets out national ambitions to reduce smoking prevalence among adults, young people and pregnant mothers. As the plan makes clear, to be effective, tobacco control needs comprehensive action on a range of fronts.
I will talk a little more about this in the context of devolved powers of public health to local government, but there is a slight danger that by focusing only on one aspect of tobacco control, we forget that there are other—and indeed more—things that we could do. Even if it was possible to say today that we would do this tomorrow, we would still be debating how we could effectively control tobacco and stop children taking up smoking. As various hon. Members have said, including Mr Barron, this is an ongoing battle to protect children’s health.
Is the Minister concerned about the fact that between April 2012 and March 2013, there was an 11% decline in the number of people setting a quit date? We are concerned about children, but if they are still watching their parents smoking, it is more likely that they will start. I hope that she is disturbed by the fact that the numbers setting out to quit are falling—it is the first fall since 2008-09. The Minister should address that point.
We are aware of that, but smoking in this country has dipped below 20% for the first time ever. I am aware of the hon. Lady’s concerns and I shall talk a bit about some of the public health campaigns and the new opportunities, not just for the Government but for local government and individual Members, on tobacco control policy.
As our plan makes clear, effective tobacco control needs comprehensive action on many fronts. The Government are taking action nationally. We are committed to completing the implementation of legislation to end the display of tobacco in shops. Since 2012, supermarkets can no longer openly display tobacco. In 2015 all shops will need to take tobacco off view. Tobacco can no longer be sold from vending machines, which has stopped many young people under 18 accessing smoking.
I do not want to downplay the importance of this policy—we are conscious that it could make an important contribution—but we can do many other things. The reasons why children, in particular, take up smoking are very complex, and are to do with family and social circumstances. One policy alone will not address that. Local authorities have a vital role to play, which is why we have given local government responsibility for public health backed by large ring-fenced budgets—more than £5.4 billion in the next two years. I encourage all hon. Members who have participated in today’s debate to ask tough questions of people locally. I hope that they are talking to their public health directors, health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups about where tobacco control sits in the armoury of local government. That is why this power has been devolved. The local insight and innovation made possible by that policy will help us to tackle tobacco use at a local level as well as through policies that the Government can put in place.
I congratulate the Minister on her obvious grasp of the subject. She is right to say that this will be a continuing debate beyond the issue of standardised packaging. Does she agree, however, that an increasing welter of evidence suggests that standardised packaging would help in the fight against smoking, particularly among the young? Will she give an assurance that the Government will increase the urgency of their review of the situation, and especially of the growing evidence in favour of standardised packaging?
I can give my hon. Friend that commitment and I am giving this my urgent consideration. It is impossible to sit through a debate such as today’s, and hear the passion expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, without going away, as the public health Minister, to give it one’s serious, urgent and active consideration.
I have laid out a little challenge to hon. Members to take this issue up at the local level. I appreciate that it is right that I should be held to account on this issue, but in the new world of devolved public health powers, I urge hon. Members to have those conversations with their health and wellbeing boards and with public health directors. In areas of the country where smoking prevalence among children is a difficult issue—some examples have been cited in the debate—our belief is that by devolving some of the power and, importantly, the ring-fenced budget to local authorities who know their communities best, they can begin to tackle the problem with great urgency and added innovation in a way that central Government cannot.
Public Health England has an important part to play. As a new, dedicated, professional public health service, it will be available to advise on local action to promote public health and encourage behaviour change to help people live healthier lives. It will put expert advice at the disposal of local authorities.
With respect, I am outlining these other aspects to underline the point that one policy is not sufficient to tackle this problem. There is a slight danger of believing that the approach is a silver bullet. It is an important policy that has been given serious consideration, and the case has been made for it, but we would still be debating how to stop children smoking, even if it were introduced.
I will move on as I have tried to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Our local stop smoking services are among the best in the world. The fact is that smokers trying to quit do better if they use them. Research has found that
“English stop smoking services have had an increasing impact in helping smokers to stop in their first 10 years of operation”— although I hear the challenge that has been made on the recent drop—
“and have successfully reached disadvantaged groups.”
The latter are obviously particularly important from a public health point of view.
This year, Public Health England has launched a new dedicated youth marketing programme. This marketing strategy aims at discouraging a range of risk behaviours, including tobacco use, among our young people. In this financial year, that is worth more than £1.5 million.
The Minister does not seem to be saying what the Government will do about the decline in quitting—the fact that stop smoking services are not reaching people to the extent that they should be. Does that concern her, and is she going to do something about it?
That is something that I will look at carefully, but I point out to the hon. Lady that obviously this issue now falls under the remit of Public Health England. It will be on my agenda for the next meeting with the chief executive, and I will write to her after I have had that discussion, if that would be helpful.
Does the Minister think that there is any connection between a record low number of people smoking and relatively few people contacting the quitting helpline? Does she think that we might be down to the core of people who actually choose to smoke and do not want to give up?
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but after four weeks in this job, I do not know that. I am not prepared to speculate on such an important issue, but I am happy to come back to him with more detail when we have given it further consideration.
Through Public Health England, we will continue to run national marketing campaigns, such as the hard-hitting health harms “Mutation” campaign, in the new year. I am sure that no one who saw that can forget the images in the campaign, which reminded smokers about the physical damage caused by smoking. We have just finished Stoptober—we have now moved on to Movember—a new approach launched in 2012 challenging smokers to stop for 28 days, all at the same time. We know that that can be a key turning point if people want to quit for ever.
The Government will continue to play their part. To discourage smoking, we have some of the highest priced tobacco in Europe and we will carry on with our high tax policy. That is coupled with an effective strategy, led by HMRC, to reduce the illicit tobacco trade, which has been mentioned in the debate. However, we must not forget the great progress that has been made. As I said, less than 20% of adults in England now smoke, compared with 39% in 1980. However, we want that number to fall, and there is no room for complacency.
On standardised packaging and illicit tobacco, some 21% of the UK’s cigarette market was illicit in 2000. Latest estimates from HMRC for 2012-13 suggest that that proportion has dropped to around 9%. Enforcement is having a real impact on illicit tobacco and we want to see the figure fall still further. The Government, working with other interested parties, are trying to drive down the size of the illicit tobacco market through improved enforcement and reducing opportunities for fraud. I am grateful to those hon. Members who have made the point that if we were to adopt standardised packaging, it would not mean plain packaging. Approaches such as anti-smuggling devices could be built into standardised packaging, if we choose to go down that route.
A few hon. Members were concerned about the possible impact of the policy on jobs. Obviously, the Government need to consider all aspects of the policy, including any impact on employment, alongside possible health benefits. Others made a point about small retailers, and some might have been present for a recent late-night Adjournment debate to which I responded that was led by Lorely Burt, who is not in the Chamber. She made some very interesting points, especially by citing evidence from a small retailer who told her that tobacco constituted 14% of his profits, but 50% of his turnover, and who was actively trying to diversify his business into areas that yielded greater profit.
I want to place on record our position on tobacco industry lobbying, which several Members mentioned. We are well aware that the tobacco industry opposes the introduction of standardised packaging, as has been the case on many other tobacco control policies, and we are equally aware of our commitment to protect public health policy on tobacco control from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. We encourage tobacco companies to respond in writing to consultations so that we can understand and take account of their views about the implications of policy options. Members will fully appreciate why we have to take such steps properly to inform a robust public policy in this area.
Paul Burstow—he is not in the Chamber, but I know he had a long-standing previous engagement—made a point about the proposed tracking and tracing scheme in the EU directive that is under negotiation. We are considering those details, particularly in the light of our obligations under the framework convention on tobacco control, to which reference has been made.
I reiterate that this policy is under active consideration, but I want hon. Members to reflect on what else we can do.
When looking at future policy development, will the Minister pay greater attention to how parents can be encouraged to take responsibility for the behaviour of their young children and how much money they have to spend unsupervised? Such money obviously gives children access to tobacco, but it is in parents’ hands to control it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point. We know that many children who start smoking are within a family who smoke and that they are sometimes given cigarettes by parents or other family members and friends. I will of course consider her very relevant point.
I reiterate that there are many things we can do, but we are actively considering whether standardised packaging could make an important contribution to our overall policy on tobacco control. I have noted the strength of feeling on both sides of the House. This has been a good debate, and an informative one for me as a new Minister. As I have said, I am actively considering the matter, and today’s powerful contributions have spurred me to give further and urgent consideration to this important public health issue.
This being the first time I have spoken when you have been in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your election to high office.
We have heard today from 11 Back Benchers, as well as the two Front Benchers, and hon. Members have put their arguments strongly. Clearly, I am wholly in favour of standardised the packaging of tobacco products, and the quicker it is done the better. Three arguments have been advanced against its rapid introduction. The first concerns the illicit trade. In reality, the illicit trade continues now, but the evidence is that through the security marking of packaging and cigarettes themselves, and with greater vigilance from our customs and excise people, the illicit trade can be stamped on hard. The tobacco industry, which is against standardised packaging, uses the illicit trade as an excuse.
Secondly, we have heard that the big tobacco companies would use the money they currently spend on packaging to cut the cost of tobacco. My answer is to increase the tax. We must ensure that tobacco is expensive so that people are discouraged from purchasing it. Thirdly, the key argument from those who oppose the measure seems to be, “Let’s delay and prevaricate. Let’s wait and see what happens. Let’s wait for everyone else to decide, and then take action ourselves.” As we have said, 300,000 under-18s start smoking every year, so the longer we delay, the greater the number of people taking up smoking and dying prematurely.
I imagine that the hon. Gentleman was as disappointed as me to hear the Minister’s response. There is a tendency among Health Ministers to say that everything is at arm’s length. Like me, I hope that he rejects the Minister’s claim that responsibility lies with Public Health England, local government and Members themselves. The action we need is action that only the Government can take. Does he support that view?
We cannot afford to delay this health measure. It would stop young people being attracted to smoking. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that big tobacco targets young people to get them smoking, and we must not allow it to continue prevaricating and preventing progress on this agenda. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to go back to her office this afternoon and look at the evidence, including the 17 studies, and make it clear to her health officials that we want to do this now, not to wait. If the Government refuse to act and the other place refuses to amend the Children and Families Bill, we will introduce another debate on which we can divide the House and demonstrate that the overwhelming will of hon. Members is for the immediate introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered standardised packaging of tobacco products.