Tobacco Products Directive — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:14 pm on 15th October 2013.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:14 pm, 15th October 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the recent vote in the European Parliament, what are their current intentions with regard to the proposed revision of the tobacco products directive.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer noble Lords to my health interests in the register.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, we are very pleased to see the move towards tougher action on tobacco, with Europe-wide controls banning flavoured cigarettes and the introduction of stricter rules on front-of-pack health warnings. However, we are disappointed that the Commission’s proposal to regulate nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes, as medicines was not supported by the European Parliament. We believe that these products need to be regulated as medicines and we will continue to argue for this during further negotiations.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, but is he particularly disappointed that it was Conservative MEPs who voted to weaken tobacco packaging warnings and blocked a ban on slim cigarettes, which are targeted at young women? Will the Government make amends by agreeing to amendments to the Children and Families Bill which would mandate the introduction of standardised packaging in this country?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, the tobacco products directive, as the noble Lord will know, does not seek to introduce standardised packaging. As he will also know, the Government have decided to wait before making a final decision on that issue but we want member states to have the flexibility to make further progress on domestic tobacco control measures in certain key areas that go beyond the new directive. We have been helping to shape the final text of article 24 to achieve that objective.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

Is my noble friend aware that in this country people who have suffered even major amputations are still so addicted to tobacco that they will ask the doctor to hold up the cigarette to their mouth? I have had this report from doctors. Does he not think that what we really have to aim at is stopping smoking among the young? Is he aware that in Australia it is no longer cool to smoke if you are young? Apparently, that is more effective than any of the health warnings.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My noble friend, as ever, makes some very wise comments. The good news is that the most recent figures on smoking prevalence are going in the right direction. It is undoubtedly true that we can never do enough to raise our game on smoking cessation measures, one of them being nicotine-containing products. That is of course a major focus for Public Health England.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat

Does my noble friend agree that if children are being driven in a car where adults, perhaps their parents, are smoking it is extremely dangerous for those children? Does he not think that the Children and Families Bill is an opportunity to put this right?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I certainly look forward to the debate on that issue during proceedings on the Children and Families Bill and I agree with my noble friend that we have to do all we can to discourage smokers from lighting up when children are in a vehicle. We believe that that can be done without resorting to legislation at present.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Is the Minister able to confirm that there is nothing in the tobacco products directive to prevent the Government introducing standard packaging for cigarettes and implementing a ban on smoking in cars when children are present?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Yes, my Lords. So far there is nothing in the directive to prevent that, which is why article 24 is the most important issue for the Government. We want member states, as I have said, to have the flexibility to make further progress on domestic tobacco control measures in key areas.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench

Despite the EU’s lack of interest in regulating for e-cigarettes, is it the Government’s intention to regulate against them in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, our position is clear: e-cigarettes should be regulated as medicines. These products need to be regulated for safety and quality, one of the reasons being that, as medicines, we can more effectively control their sale to children and the way that they are advertised and promoted. We need to take an approach that is future proof, being applicable to new technology nicotine products in whatever form might be brought forward in the future.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

Can the Minister tell us what action the Government intend to take over slim cigarettes, which were not affected in the recent EU directive but which are particularly appealing to young girls and are often a route to introducing them to becoming addicted to tobacco?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. While some in the public health community are concerned about slim cigarettes, and understandably so, both the European Parliament and the Council decided that slims should not be banned under this directive. However, she is right that slims are known to be more attractive to women than men. It may be something that remains on the agenda for future consideration at a European level.

Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware of evidence from New Zealand that e-cigarettes are extremely effective in getting people off tobacco cigarettes and that they are more effective than tobacco patches? Is it not important that in regulating e-cigarettes we do not discourage them from taking a considerable market share from tobacco products, given that vaping is clearly much safer than smoking?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My noble friend is right. E-cigarettes certainly have the potential for being a force for good in helping smokers to quit. At the same time, we do not want them to become a gateway into smoking. The aim is to have licensed products that have demonstrated safety, quality and efficacy, and for such products to be available as widely as possible.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

Will the Minister take note of the fact that people have moved from heroin to methadone, which is less dangerous to them than heroin? In fact, we now have hundreds of thousands of people parked on methadone and there is no way in which we can get them off it. That is extraordinarily expensive for the country and bad for their health.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I recognise the issue that the noble Lord raises, but perhaps that is a debate for another time.