Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 14th May 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Crossbench 8:27 pm, 14th May 2013

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, particularly two non-financial interests: I am a trustee of Lung Cancer Campaign Carmarthenshire and a board member of the National Cancer Research Institute. Like many noble Lords, I congratulate those who made their maiden speeches this evening. It certainly takes me back to the day I made mine, when I talked about occupational lung disease. I am delighted that a Bill was announced in the gracious Speech to tackle the need for compensation for people with mesothelioma.

I will focus on tobacco control, which has been referred to by many noble Lords as a major omission from the gracious Speech. One in four cancer deaths are still thought to be due to smoking. Smoking kills one in two long-term smokers. These are shocking facts. I hope that whether noble Lords support standardised packaging or not, they will agree that it is deeply disturbing to learn that eight in 10 smokers start smoking by the age of 19.

Given this uptake of smoking by young people, we must surely all be united in taking whatever action we can to reduce or even stop the young people of this country from smoking. We must, therefore, consider the role of advertising and the role that promotion may play in drawing young people into smoking. Packaging is part of this.

It is no surprise, perhaps, that packaging is a vital issue to focus on, given the results of the 2012 study funded by Cancer Research UK, which included an audit of the tobacco retail press from January 2009 to June 2011. It found that,

“the level of tobacco packaging activity is increasing. Brands appear to be in a continuous cycle of modernisation through pack redesign. Increasingly, innovative packaging and limited editions draw attention to the product”.

A review commissioned for the standardised packaging consultation concluded that there was,

“strong evidence to support the propositions set out in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control relating to the role of plain packaging in helping to reduce smoking rates; that is, that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products”.

Given this and our need to prevent millions of children from starting to smoke, we have a responsibility to introduce standardised tobacco packaging as part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle tobacco at local, national and international level.

Therefore, along with many of my colleagues across the health community, I am extremely disappointed that the Government did not include legislation in the gracious Speech. This absence of a Bill inevitably raises the question of the Government’s response to their consultation on standardised packaging. Nine months after the consultation ended, we are still awaiting a response from the Government. Can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Health is still considering how the Government should respond to this consultation?

In the time we have been waiting, Cancer Research UK estimates that more than 150,000 children have started smoking. I call on the Government to respond in favour. We have waited long enough. We know that the Public Health Minister in the other place is convinced by the evidence, and there are many in this House who have voiced their concerns today, including the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Wheeler, my noble friend Lord Hunt, from the opposition Front Bench, and my noble friends Lord MacKenzie and Lord Patel, who have all voiced their concerns and hopes for government action.

Let us take a moment to reflect on the support for standard packs, which is extremely broad. I mentioned the support of the health community. I cannot overstate the extent to which health organisations agree with this measure. Smokefree Action Coalition brings together 190 health and welfare organisations: royal colleges, the British Medical Association, charities such as Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. They all support the idea of standard packs.

This issue also resonates with the public. If one shows people examples of existing packs that are clearly aimed at young women, they are horrified. YouGov polling shows that 63% of adults support the removal of branding from cigarette packs, and just 16% are opposed. Some 85% of people back government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking. In the Government’s consultation more than 200,000 members of the public supported standard packs. These are the supporters of standardised packaging: a majority of the public and more than 190 health and welfare organisations.

Yet their collective voice has at times struggled to be heard over the well organised campaign by the tobacco industry. In 2012, Japan Tobacco International said that it would spend £2 million on adverts arguing against standard packs. To date, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled its claims to be “misleading” and “unsubstantiated”. While the tobacco industry argues that smuggling is increasing and that standard packs will make things worse, HMRC is clear that smuggling has halved in the past decade, and the Trading Standards Institute backs standard packaging, saying that pack design makes no difference to its efforts to tackle smuggling.

The evidence is clear and substantial. A majority of the public, 190 health organisations, the World Health Organisation and many others all support standard packs. The tobacco industry has spent millions on advertising to oppose standardised packaging, which indicates just how much store its sets by pack design.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I hope very much that when Her Majesty said in the gracious Speech that other measures will be laid before us, we will see a Bill aimed at stopping children taking up smoking through the introduction of standard cigarette packages.