Tobacco Companies (Transparency)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 2:03 pm, 9th April 2019

I refer at the outset to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I do not intend to speak for long, because I know that many Members wish to get on to this afternoon’s important debate, but the Bill promoted by Bob Blackman—in fact, I consider him to be my hon. Friend—should not pass by without some scrutiny.

The hon. Gentleman has been tireless in his campaigning to reduce the number of people who smoke and the harm caused by smoking. I applaud him and others for their commitment to such a good cause, but I am worried that the Bill misses the point and doubles up on what already happens under a European directive that effectively ceased the manufacturing of tobacco products in the United Kingdom.

Ever since the introduction of the European Union’s tobacco products directive, tobacco companies have been required by law to provide the Government with all of their sales data and market research. E-cigarette manufacturers, which are now a significant employer in the United Kingdom, also have to submit the same information. Clearly, it is only right and proper that that information should be provided, and that is the kind of thing that we should keep in law after we finally win our independence from Brussels. The tax changes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are not, as far as I know, covered by the Bill and are a matter for the Treasury.

The European directive also requires that from May onwards, all tobacco products will be tracked, pack by pack, across the European Union, from factory to the precise retailer. That, of course, is to prevent a lot of smuggling and crime, which is incredibly important. That data will be available from May onwards, and the database will give the Government exact data about what products are where in the supply chain, so there is no need for the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. The Government already have, or soon will have, all the data he suggests and, indeed, much more. The European directive goes even further and its provisions surpass the requirements suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

We know that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. There are already 3 million people in the United Kingdom who vape. More than half of them have given up smoking completely—and all without a penny of taxpayers’ money. This is the free market solving a problem that previous Government campaigns have failed to solve. We should applaud that.

As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on vaping, I am pleased to welcome the House to the month of VApril—a month to celebrate the positive switch that smokers can make to vaping. The campaign is backed by businesses—both tobacco companies and independent e-cigarette businesses—and by consumers and retailers. I stress that the products are manufactured in the United Kingdom and keep people in employment in the United Kingdom, and that those people pay taxes in the United Kingdom. They are, therefore, incredibly important.

If the hon. Gentleman really wants to stop more people smoking, as I do, he needs to get behind vaping and work to tell more smokers about the difference and improvement it can make to their lives and health, with an approximately 95% reduction in harm compared with smoking. Far too many smokers have never even tried vaping, and far too many of them wrongly think that it is just as bad as smoking. As the Select Committee on Science and Technology was told just last year, we need to do more to set those people straight.

I do not want to divide the House. The hon. Gentleman deserves our respect for his years of campaigning to reduce smoking, but the Government already have all the information they need and the Bill is already out of date.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Bob Blackman, Alex Cunningham, Sir Kevin Barron, Ian Mearns, Dr Philippa Whitford, Norman Lamb and Caroline Lucas present the Bill.

Bob Blackman accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 April, and to be printed (Bill 377).