It is a pleasure to take part in today’s debate, and I welcome the one-year anniversary of the tobacco control policy for England. A great deal of progress has been made in reducing smoking prevalence across the UK. As has been pointed out, whereas in 1974 more than half of adult males and more than two in five women smoked, the latest figures from NHS Digital suggest that smoking rates in the UK are now 15.1%. So I say congratulations on that achievement.
The figures on smoking prevalence in Scotland, where I come from, vary as between sources, but the Office for National Statistics has suggested a prevalence rate of 16.3% in 2017. Since 2010, Scotland has seen the largest decline in the proportion of smokers of the four UK jurisdictions, with a reduction of more than eight percentage points. That said, there are still about 10,000 smoking-related deaths per year and 128,000 smoking-related hospital admissions in Scotland.
The Scottish Government published their new five-year tobacco control plan in June. It goes a little further than the tobacco control plan for England, in that it not only puts forward a vision of a smoke-free generation but sets a date, 2034, by which we wish to achieve that vision. If Scotland is to achieve its vision, it requires action by the Westminster Government on issues that are not devolved, such as tax, illicit trade and smoking in the entertainment media. Page 14 of the tobacco control plan for Scotland commits the Scottish Government to
“continue to work with the UK Government to address the representation of tobacco use in the media.”
That is not something that the Scottish Government can do on their own.
A clear causal link has been established between exposure to smoking on screen in the entertainment media and smoking initiation in young people. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of smoking uptake; yet smoking remains common in entertainment media viewed on screen by young people, including prime-time TV, videos, and films. A recent survey for ASH found that in all media for which questions were asked—TV, films, music videos, computer games and online—the 11 to 18-year-olds who had tried smoking were significantly more likely than those who had never smoked to report exposure to smoking imagery. The highest level of young people’s exposure to smoking imagery was in films, with 81% of 11 to 15-year-olds and 88% of 16 to 18-year-olds reporting seeing smoking. An analysis of UK TV programmes broadcast between 6 and 10 pm in 2015 found that 12% of all programmes featured tobacco use, which was the same proportion as in 2010. In both 2010 and 2015 the frequency before and after the 9 o’clock watershed was roughly similar. Only a very small minority of the content could be justifiable on historical accuracy or other grounds.
The relevant regulators are Ofcom and the British Board of Film Classification. Ofcom, which has a statutory responsibility to protect the under-18s, has much more stringent rules than the BBFC. However, both regulators appear to be more concerned about how smoking is depicted than the overall amount of the exposure taking place. Will the Minister endorse the following recommendations and ask his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to put them into effect through revised Ofcom and BBFC codes? First, Ofcom and the BBFC should monitor youth exposure to depictions of tobacco use on screen on the channels that they regulate and publish the data in their annual reviews; secondly, Ofcom and the BBFC should revise their guidelines with respect to smoking on screen in entertainment media viewed by under-18s, to discourage any depictions of tobacco use and require action to mitigate any remaining exposure; and thirdly, if smoking features in any programme or film likely to be widely seen, heard or accessed by under-18s, an anti-tobacco advertisement must be displayed at the beginning and in any advertising breaks.
When I spoke in the debate on the tobacco control plan in October last year, I focused heavily on the illicit trade, which the Minister will remember, and encouraged him to ensure that the UK ratified the illicit trade protocol in time for the meeting in October this year, so I am absolutely delighted that the UK did indeed ratify it. In fact, we were the 40th country to do so and thereby triggered the entering into force of the treaty. I congratulate the Government on that.
However, the UK Government still need to do more to tackle the illicit trade. In 2016-17, the size of the illicit market for cigarettes had remained roughly stable since around 2010, although as smoking prevalence has declined significantly, it has made up a higher proportion of the total market. Because taxes have increased over the years, the total tax revenue lost as a result of illicit trade has grown from £1.9 billion in 2010 to roughly £2.5 billion today.
Articles 15 and 16 of the tobacco products directive 2014/40/EU provide for EU-wide systems of traceability and security features for tobacco products, to address the issue of illicit trade. There are a lot of good suggestions and lots of good work in that directive. Under the traceability system, all unit packets of tobacco products are required to be marked with a unique identifier, and relevant economic operators involved in the tobacco trade are required to record the movements of tobacco products throughout the supply chain and transmit the related information to an independent provider, with data storage contracts to be approved by the Commission. The data will then be made accessible for enforcement purposes to the authorities of EU countries and to the Commission. Under the security features system, all unit packets of tobacco products placed on the EU market will be required to carry a tamper-proof security feature, composed of visible and invisible elements, enabling authorities and consumers to verify their authenticity. It is therefore, in my opinion, essential to the control of the illicit tobacco trade that the UK should continue to participate in the EU tracking and tracing system after Brexit and that any such system implemented in the UK is independent of tobacco manufacturers as required by the illicit trade protocol.
A study for the tobacco control research group at the University of Bath, published just last month, exposes evidence that the big tobacco companies are still facilitating tobacco smuggling. The protocol explicitly requires Governments to take responsibility for control measures, rather than relying on industry self-regulation, which has failed so miserably to date. The industry must not be allowed to control the traceability system, either directly or indirectly through proxies.
In conclusion, will the Minister commit to the UK remaining in the EU tracking and traceability system for tobacco products after Brexit? Will he report on the UK’s progress in implementing the requirements of the EU tracking and traceability system, and will he confirm that the system of tracking and tracing of tobacco products, which will be adopted by the UK, will comply with the independence requirements set out in the WHO illicit trade protocol?