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Health Bill [HL]:  Legislative Consent Motion

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 3rd March 2009.

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Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP 2:45 pm, 3rd March 2009

I beg to move

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of provisions of the Health Bill [HL] dealing with tobacco, and powers of suspension in relation to members of NHS bodies and other bodies concerned with health.

The Health Bill [HL] was introduced to Westminster on 15 January 2009, and it deals with a number of issues arising from the report entitled ‘High Quality Care For All’, which resulted from Lord Darzi’s review of the Health Service in England. The measures in the Bill apply mainly to the service in England, but they include specific proposals that are relevant to the devolved Administrations.

In the case of Northern Ireland, those include tobacco restrictions. Last month, I announced plans to remove cigarette displays in shops and to prevent underage access to vending machines. In addition, the Bill covers the introduction of new powers of suspension or removal of Northern Ireland members of UK-wide health bodies. I could have brought the legislation forward as an Assembly Bill, but it was essential that the legislation, particularly in relation to tobacco, was available at the earliest possible date in order to protect our children and young people.

The key provision of the Health Bill [HL] is the removal of displays of tobacco products at points of sale from retail outlets. The provision will grant new powers to my Department to allow that step to be introduced to Northern Ireland and to make decisions on where exemptions may apply. The main objective of the legislation is to reduce the number of children and young people who take up smoking. It will also support and help those who are trying to quit smoking.

Following the ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco in 2002, the tobacco industry has responded by making displays increasingly larger — so much so that they are now a greater source of promotion and temptation to children and adults alike. Research shows that children and young people are particularly susceptible to advertising and that those who are exposed to tobacco advertising are more likely to take up smoking.

As a reformed smoker who started to smoke in my youth, I know only too well the damage that tobacco can do and how addictive it is. Thankfully, I no longer smoke, but I only wish that I had not started in the first place. I know that, particularly in today’s media-friendly environment, smoking can be portrayed as being cool. Advertising is making the decisions for children, and, before they realise it, they are hooked. Every action must be taken to prevent children from getting on that malignant conveyor belt, which leads only to addiction and ill health.

The Bill also proposes provisions that would grant powers to my Department to control the sale of tobacco products from vending machines. The new powers will allow either for the prohibition of such machines or for age restrictions to prevent people who are under 18 years of age accessing them.

Vending machines currently provide a common and easily accessible source of tobacco for young people. Figures from the British Heart Foundation estimate that there could be as many as 1,500 children in Northern Ireland aged between 11 and 15 years who access their cigarettes locally from vending machines. At present, because vending machines are self-service, no routine age checks are carried out prior to purchase. That is why the restrictions are being introduced.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Will the Minister give way?



Submitted by Neeta Budhani Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

No, I will finish my speech. I understand that Members will want to make comments then, after which I will make my winding-up speech; I think that that is the best way to proceed. Members will all have an opportunity to get on their feet and make points, which I can address during my winding-up speech.

Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland. Every year, around 2,300 people die from smoking-related illnesses. It is a major risk factor for serious health conditions such as coronary heart disease and strokes. It is also a major cause of health inequalities and is a principal cause of the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. That is especially the reason that I am setting up a public health agency to tackle those inequalities.

I am sure that Members would agree that those statistics are shocking. As a society, we have a duty to protect our children from harm. As Health Minister, I have a duty to promote the good health and well-being of Northern Ireland’s entire population. I make no apology for doing so. However, I have a particular responsibility to safeguard the most vulnerable groups, especially children.

We are all proud of the immense contribution that the cancer centre at the City Hospital makes to our Health Service. Pioneered by world-leading experts such as Professor Paddy Johnston and Professor Roy Spence, it is now recognised as an international centre of excellence. By investing at an early stage, we have made enormous strides in treating and thwarting cancer. During a visit to the centre last year, Paddy Johnston told me that if smoking were eradicated, lung cancer would hardly register as a statistic. That is a startling fact, which must not be forgotten. Indeed, in the words of Action Cancer:

“Every young person who takes up smoking is a potential cancer patient.”

Although much has been achieved in the field of cancer prevention, more is required. In 2008, I announced my intention to develop a radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin Hospital to cater for patients in the west of the Province. That development has arisen in a further effort to treat patients as early as possible and as a result of increasing demand.

This morning, I listened to media reports on the matter. I must say that I am disappointed that some people are attempting to question the Bill’s validity. I appreciate the concerns of some people in Ballymena about the Japan Tobacco International plant. However, I understand that much of its produce is exported outside of Northern Ireland. I also recognise the concerns of retailers who are worried that the Bill will have an impact on their businesses. I have agreed to meet industry representatives and shop stewards in the near future.

I remind Members that when smoking controls were introduced to ban smoking in restaurants and pubs, major concerns were raised about pub closures. Those concerns were unfounded. In fact, following the introduction of legislation on smoke-free premises in 2007-08, around 21,000 people set a date to quit the habit through the smoking-cessation services. That figure represents an increase of over 7,500 — or 56% — on the figure for the same period of the previous year. That is a success story on which I am determined to build.

I have said that I want to introduce the measures as early as possible. I hope that that can happen by 2010. I have not stipulated an exact date in 2010. Indeed, the legislative timescale in Northern Ireland means that a start date is not likely before July 2010. However, we cannot afford to delay the introduction of the measure. The Republic of Ireland has adopted similar legislation, which commences on 1 July 2009.

England, Scotland and Wales intend to adopt similar measures between 2011 and 2013. As Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with another European state, I do not want to wait four years. I am in the business of saving lives. If it is good enough to introduce the legislation in four years, we should not wait any longer than necessary. We must not put wealth before health. Are people really asking me to put economic concerns on tobacco sales before the health of our children? It is a matter of conscience, and I cannot do that.

We cannot, and must not, ignore the facts. In 2007, almost 9% of children in Northern Ireland aged between 11 and 16 were regular smokers; those children are three times more likely to die of cancer due to smoking than someone who starts in their mid-twenties. In fact, the vast majority of adult smokers in Northern Ireland — 77% — started in their teens. Exposure to tobacco products increases the likelihood that a child will start to smoke, and countries that remove tobacco displays have experienced decreases in smoking prevalence among young people. Iceland has reported a decrease of more than 7% among 15- to 16-year-olds, and Canada has experienced a reduction of 10% over five years among 15- to 19-year-olds.

I will take every step possible to prevent our children from accessing cigarettes. Making cigarettes less accessible will discourage children and teenagers from smoking in the first place and will mean that they do not have a habit to carry into adult life. I ask all Members to support the motion, which is an important step in improving the public health of the population and helping to prevent deaths and illness caused by smoking.

I want to highlight the proposal to extend provisions that allow for the suspension of non-executive appointees on the boards of National Health Service bodies to enable the investigation of any concerns about their performance or activities. I must emphasise that that element of the Bill applies primarily to the National Health Service in England. However, as two of the bodies have Northern Ireland appointees, it requires the Assembly’s consent.

At present, the options to address concerns about the performance of a non-executive director are, for many NHS bodies, limited. Where problems with non-executive appointees are identified, they would either be allowed to continue in their role, their resignation would be sought or their appointment would be terminated. The Bill proposes a suspension option to enable an investigation to take place while temporarily removing an appointee from his or her position. It is argued that that option provides greater assurances on public finances and patient safety and allows appointees to make representations on their own behalf. In Northern Ireland, those provisions will apply to only two UK-wide bodies to which we make appointments — the Human Tissue Authority and the Health Protection Agency.

The legislation will contribute significantly towards the primary aim of reducing the appeal and uptake of smoking among young people. The suspension provision aims to strengthen the ability to hold to account those who accept public office. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Claire McGill Claire McGill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and to relay the Committee’s views in the absence of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, who are on other Committee business.

As the motion indicates, the Health Bill [HL], which is being debated in Westminster, contains two provisions that relate to Northern Ireland and require the approval of the Assembly, namely the introduction of further tobacco restrictions and powers to suspend chairpersons and non-executive appointees of certain bodies. My comments, on behalf of the Committee, relate to the proposed tobacco restrictions.

In December 2008, the Minister informed the Committee in writing about the proposals on the sale of tobacco, and at its meeting on January 15, the Committee was content to note those proposals. In February, the Minister again wrote to the Committee to advise that the Bill had been introduced at Westminster and that he intended to proceed to introduce this legislative consent motion. The issue was further considered by the Committee at its meeting on Thursday of last week.

The main issue of interest to the Health Committee relates to the proposed tobacco restrictions. Those are, as the Minister has indicated, the banning of the display of tobacco at the point of sale and the banning or restricting of the sale of tobacco from vending machines. In considering the issue, the Committee has had representations from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and received a written statement from Gallaher Ltd on behalf of Japan Tobacco International. A letter from the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to the Health Minister was also copied to the Committee.

The members of the Health Committee recognise that the measure is intended to further restrict the easy accessibility of tobacco products and further discourage smoking among young people. We fully supported the ban on smoking in public places when it was introduced, and we appreciate that the measure before the House today is another small step in the battle to prevent death and disease caused by smoking.

The first priority and major concern of the Health Committee must always be to ensure the health of the community. We are very concerned about the impact of smoking, and particularly the number of premature deaths from coronary heart disease and cancers that are caused by smoking each year.

The Independent Retail Trade Association was keen to stress to the Committee that it in no way opposed the legislation, that it takes its role in the community very seriously, and wants to play its part in protecting public health. Its concern was solely in relation to the timescale for implementing the changes. The association argued that in England and Wales, retailers will be given until 2013 to make the necessary changes; the Health Minister has indicated that he intends to implement them here from next year.

NIIRTA also claimed that it will cost each small retailer around £5,000 to make the necessary changes to comply with the legislation and that for many small local shops, particularly in the present economic climate, it could mean the difference between survival and closure.

The Committee is fully aware of the role of small local shops in our communities and has no wish to see any small businesses go to the wall. Nevertheless, the Committee must be mindful of its health responsibilities, and it unanimously agreed to support the motion. The Committee also agreed to ask the Minister to consider carefully the views of the Independent Retail Trade Association and others about how and when the legislation is implemented. I support the motion. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 3:00 pm, 3rd March 2009

I support the motion in principle as presented to the House by the Minister today. It is important to note that today’s debate is only about endorsing the principle of the extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland, and that before any implementation of the legislation takes place, the Minister has to bring it back to the Executive.

There is no doubt that whatever measures are put in place to discourage children and young people from the deceptive notion that there is something glamorous about smoking must be welcomed. Children who smoke become addicted to tobacco for years, which in many cases leads to life-threatening diseases and premature death. Therefore, for the overall health of the people, it is important that our young people are weaned off that notorious habit. However, any new legislation must be introduced in a balanced and equitable way that creates a level playing field for small businesses and their counterparts in the UK.

I have concerns about the Minister’s time frame. He has stated that he wants to force through the changes by 2010. That creates a concern for small businesses and retailers, who have already taken their role in combating the problem of smoking among the young seriously, and play a key enforcement role in ending the sale of tobacco products to underage children. They could now face, as has been mentioned, an average bill of around £5,000 to make the necessary changes to their premises by 2010.

Therefore, it is important that in the midst of this economic downturn, small businesses in Northern Ireland are treated on a par with their UK counterparts, which will have until 2013 to make such changes.

The owners of small businesses are not opposed to the motion; they can and will comply with the legislation when it is introduced. Yet, given the total impact on our 3,000 local shops, at a cost to our economy of almost £15 million at a time of recession, it is only right and proper that they have the same lead-in time as that afforded to their UK counterparts.

We must remember that the Executive have pledged to help small businesses, especially in the next 12 months. Therefore, to force this ban through by next year will have detrimental consequences for many of those small businesses. That is why I said at the outset that the Minister must take the proposal back to an Executive meeting before the implementation of any legislation. I am confident that a balanced view will be adopted at such a meeting.

I note that the Minister’s colleague, the shadow Front Bench Minister for Health, Mike Penning MP, has said that the Conservative Party is opposed to the ban. In an article in ‘Retail Express’ magazine, he said that the ban could be the end of corner shops in most communities, as bigger shops will be able to absorb it but small shops will really suffer. I wonder how that position will affect the new marriage arrangements that have been made by the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Parties.

In concluding, however, I ask the Minister to give some indication as to whether smoking among our young people has increased or decreased in the past 18 months to two years as a result of the tobacco-control measures that are already in place and are being implemented.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

It is good that Mr Buchanan is worried about my party’s marital arrangements. I am sure that he has never disagreed with his wife.

What does the DUP think devolution is about? It is about the Assembly agreeing a policy, or deciding what is best for Northern Ireland. That is why the Minister will have the power to decide on the matters at hand. Mr Buchanan began by forcefully making the case for the legislation, and said, honestly, that it was important that it be passed. He then concluded by saying that we should let a few more people die before implementing the legislation and that it should be delayed until 2013.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I will give way, unlike the DUP Members.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

Will the Member accept that there is a difference between wanting to have proposals that will protect young people and stop them smoking, and what is being proposed, which, many people would argue, does not achieve that aim?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Then, perhaps, Mr Ross should wonder why the DUP will accept those proposals in 2013. If it is right to introduce them in 2013, surely it is right to do so in 2010.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

It is not right to introduce the ban earlier, because it will create a distinct disadvantage for our local traders. In fact, local traders will be expected to pay somewhere in the region of £5,000 to change the tobacco displays in their shops. That will cost Northern Ireland’s retail sector £15 million. Retailers in England will have the same costs pro rata but will have until 2013 to change their displays. Our retailers are being told that those changes must be made earlier.

The Member is right: devolution must help local people; it must not disadvantage them. That is the essential point.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

What of the disadvantage to those who die? Would that not register as a big disadvantage to those young people who become addicted to cigarettes and ruin their health and their lives? This is a public-health issue. The DUP has a track record of opposing a public-health agency.

The DUP seems fixated on making efficiencies, yet it does not say that the Health Service cannot function unless we, as the Minister is doing, place an emphasis on public health, and on guiding its promotion in a manner in which we have never done before. That is what the issue is about.

Mr Paisley Jnr spoke about small traders. Of course, the Ulster Unionist Party is very supportive of small businesses. If the Member’s colleague the Minister of the Environment were to introduce proposals on draft PPS 5, that would provide a big advantage for small traders. Where is the DUP now? It is silent on that issue.

This is a health issue; it is about public health and about helping to protect our children from getting hooked on cigarettes at a very young age. The harm that smoking causes to children is disproportionate to the harm that it causes people who start later in life. More than 100,000 people across the UK die from smoking-related illnesses each year. The provisions in the Health Bill [HL] are another measure to try to combat that. It is absolutely vital —

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

OK, why not? Even though the Member never gives way to me.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

I am happy to give way to Mr McCallister in this debate. In the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Ulster Unionist Party actually agreed on the way forward. Claire McGill outlined that in her contribution, including the concerns for retailers. In Committee, Mr McCallister said that he supported the stance that retailers should get more time to implement the required changes, yet in the Chamber he says the opposite. Therefore, the Member must make his mind up.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I took exactly the same line in Committee as I take now. In Committee, I said that we have big concerns for small retailers. I said that we need to look at what the costs are. Is that £5,000 a realistic figure, or is it a bogus figure? Has it simply been plucked out of the air? What are the realistic costs? How useful and vital are tobacco sales to small retailers?

What I said — in case Mr Easton cannot remember — is that it is right to introduce the Bill’s provisions here. I also said that if 2010 is too soon, or if the timeline proves too tight, and the Minister has already indicated that he is happy to speak to retailers, some flexibility may be possible. However, the ideal scenario is that we move to implement the provisions as quickly as possible. We are the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another EU member state. The Republic of Ireland is moving on the issue this year, so issues will arise.

If it is right to introduce a ban on tobacco displays in 2013, surely it is right to do so as quickly as possible, while taking into account the concerns of retailers and those who must implement the policy. Governments in other parts of the UK can make their own decisions, and the Scots and the Welsh may decide on different timings.

In his opening remarks, the Minister made it clear that he is more than willing to engage in discussions in order to make the transition period as painless as possible. However, we must return to the point that it is a public-health matter. The health and well-being of our young people and of some of the more vulnerable people in our society is at stake.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

Does the Member agree that in many parts of Northern Ireland, small retailers’ tobacco sales are hit hardest by tobacco smugglers?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

The Member is correct. Whether it be smuggling, theft and other illegal activities or be it PPS 5, the final version of which the DUP must get on with and publish, much is hurting small traders. A great deal can be done to help retailers. The measure concerns public health, and I urge Members to stay on the public-health agenda.

The Minister gave some figures: in 2007, 9% of children in Northern Ireland aged between 11 and 16 were regular smokers, and 80% of that group were addicted by the age of 19.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Well, why not.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I will return the favour later. I have been listening to the Member speak for several minutes, and he is giving an emotional argument about how banning cigarette displays will save lives. Will he tell us how the proposal to ban the display of cigarettes will stop people taking up smoking when there is already existing legislation to stop young people from smoking? What will that do to improve public health, because he has not outlined that yet?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

One would think that Mr Ross had just arrived in the Chamber. His colleagues support the motion in principle, yet say that it is fine to ban tobacco displays in 2013, but not in 2010 or 2011 or whatever date is decided. If it is right to do it —

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I will, certainly. [Interruption.] If it is right —

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. Several Members want to talk at the moment — we will all be puffing if we carry on this way. So, Mr McCallister, do you wish to give way to a Member on your right?

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. I did not want to intervene, because it is quite useful to watch the theatre that is going on in the Assembly. I remind the Member of the debate that we had on banning smoking in public places, and I will speak in the debate later.

One argument that was made to the Health Committee was that there would be a downturn in the number of people attending theatres if smoking was not allowed on the stage. The Assembly did not accept that bogus argument and supported the ban on smoking in public places. I am, therefore, concerned about people cherry-picking issues on smoking cessation.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I thank the Member for her intervention. That could be argued for just about every issue. For example, the Minister mentioned that the smoking ban was supposed to be the death knell for pubs and clubs. The same argument could be made about drinking and driving and rural pubs, although no one would support that.

Mr Ross might not think that it is right to introduce the ban in 2013, and that is fine. That is a matter for him. In that case, why does Mr Ross’s party support the principle of the motion but he just does not want the ban on tobacco displays until 2013? The policy works or it does not — it has worked in other parts of the world, such as Canada, which has a system — [Interrpution.]

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. I remind Mr Ross to make his remarks through the Chair.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I have already given way and I have been very generous in the number of interventions that I have taken from Mr Ross — his party does not usually extend the same courtesy to me or any of my colleagues.

The point is that this issue is about public health and about sending out a clear message. The Minister will, I believe, work with retailers, because the issue is not about hurting small businesses, it is about health. The intention is to get this policy to work and to improve public health and keep children safe and away from smoking. That is what the debate must focus on. If it is right to ban tobacco displays in 2013, it is right to do it now as quickly as possible, and work with the industry to achieve the easiest and most painless way forward.

I commend the motion to the Chamber.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the legislation and the opportunity for us in Northern Ireland to play our part in removing displays of tobacco at the point of sale — in other words, taking them from the sight of customers.

As a member of the Health Committee and a health professional, we must support our health colleagues, whether those working in hospitals, those who work for organisations such as Chest, Heart and Stroke Northern Ireland and the British Heart Foundation, and the cancer charities — the people who are tackling this issue at the coalface need our support. I am hopeful that this movement, along with other work and initiatives in education and health promotion, will deter young people in particular from starting to smoke.

Some excellent research supports the view that advertising normalises and, for some people, glamorises smoking. We want to support small retailers, who are often at the centre of communities, and we will work with them to implement the concealment of their tobacco products. However, our support must not cost people their lives.

The Minister outlined the awful cancer statistics, and he described the huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor in our society. Many of the people who smoke have neither the time nor the support to kick the habit; it is so highly addictive that doing so is extremely difficult.

I am not sure whether vending machines are included in the legislation, and perhaps the Minister will clarify whether any decision has been taken on their location. If they are to be locked, how will that be policed? Perhaps the Assembly is missing an opportunity and should be banning all vending machines.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

I support the Bill. Given that the Assembly is debating an extremely serious subject, I am slightly disappointed by the flippant attitude of the DUP.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

What about the effect on jobs?

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

The DUP talks about jobs, but health should be its priority, as it is mine.

Tobacco kills — full stop. The Assembly must show leadership, as it has done in the past, and I have no doubt that it can rise to the occasion again. The changes will cause some pain to shopkeepers, and the Alliance Party sympathises with them. However, they will find ways and means to overcome any difficulties.

The objective of the Bill is simply to protect children and young people from becoming hooked on what I call “coffin nails” — Members know what will happen to the majority of smokers. I do not know why it has taken the Government so long to tackle the scourge of tobacco. The figures show that some 700 unfortunate people in Northern Ireland die from preventable lung cancer every year. The Assembly can, and must, help to stamp out the suffering of smokers and their families. I hope that the Assembly will support the Bill.

I pay tribute to the various bodies in Northern Ireland that have promoted, and continue to promote, the no-smoking philosophy. The Health Promotion Agency, the Ulster Cancer Foundation and Action Cancer, together with other bodies, help smokers and, in particular, young people to kick the habit or not to start smoking in the first place.

The Bill should help to prevent young people from starting to smoke. Surely that is the goal of everyone, in the Chamber and in Northern Ireland, who subscribes to the philosophy of prevention being better than cure. Not only will that give young people a healthy start in life, but in years to come, it will relieve the Health Service of massive expenditure that could be invested in important front line services. From time to time — indeed, at every opportunity — everyone in the Chamber complains about the lack of some type of health provision.

The Minister was brave enough to say that he was a smoker in his youth. I am not sure how many other Members smoked at that time, but I can commiserate with the Minister. A long, long time ago, I remember jumping onto a tractor and cart being driven by my brother. I took out a packet of fags and some matches, and I lit up.

My brother told me that I would rue the day that I had lit that cigarette. I told him not to be silly. It took me 35 years after that fag to rue the day: 35 years of coughing, spluttering, fighting for breath and not being able to play hurley or football. That is the effect of young people getting hooked on these coffin nails.

People should remember that we have to get through to the young people. There is criticism from the DUP about what that has got to do with the Bill. These people are not stupid. They know that advertising is big business, and they advertise. No matter what product is advertised, people will buy it. They will get hooked on it. That is what this is all about; to try and prevent them from smoking in the first instance.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Maybe the Member is not aware — maybe he did not see it through the cloud of smoke — that the advertising of tobacco products was banned several years ago. The debate is not about banning advertising. There is nothing to do with advertising in the Bill — maybe he has not read it.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

I am sorry; the Member seems to have wrongly picked up what I was saying. If one goes into a shop and sees some glamorous colours — whatever they are advertising — one is attracted to that. Certainly, young people will be attracted to that.

I fully support the efforts that are being made by the Minister today. Cigarettes and tobacco products should be out of sight and out of mind, as the Minister has said, and the danger for young people should be out of reach. That is why I support the proposal.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker — sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. You have not been promoted yet.

The motion is critical the health and well-being of our society. I refer to the provision of the Health Bill [HL] in relation to tobacco.

I will focus my remarks on the deadly impact of tobacco and highlight why the banning of advertising of tobacco is in the best interests of our society. There is already much good work being undertaken in advising and educating our populace on the dangers of smoking. Across my constituency of North Down, the local schools — in their personal and social education — focus on the negative impact of smoking and encourage prevention. That is reinforced in churches, youth organisations, voluntary and community sectors — they all deserve praise.

Let us consider why we need to stop advertising that encourages smoking. Across the globe, smoking is one of the foremost causes of disease. Annually, some four million people die from diseases related to smoking. In reality, a life is lost every eight seconds. We know of the 4,000 chemicals inhaled through smoking. We know of the 43 molecules directly linked to cancer, and some 401 others that are toxic or harmful. We do not need to highlight the harm caused by benzene or the wood alcohol, methanol.

It is because of the life-threatening diseases associated with smoking that the provisions of this Bill are key. I am referring to lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and much more. My grandfather died of emphysema, so this is a personal issue for me.

When we consider banning advertising, we do so for clearly defined reasons. Let us consider the facts: 10% of smokers will die before the age of 55, compared with 4% of non-smokers. Let us analyse further: 28% of smokers will die before the age of 65, compared with 11% of non-smokers. Significantly, 57% of smokers will die before the age of 75, compared with 30% of non-smokers.

In the face of this overwhelming evidence, is there anyone who regards the provisions of the Bill as unnecessary? Rather than advertising tobacco, we should be advertising the benefits of giving up smoking. Let us promote the fact that within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse are returning to normal.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Does the Member accept that allowing cigarettes to be displayed in the most prominent position in any retail outlet — directly behind the sales counter — is advertising? That is encouraging and enticing people who shop, and young people in particular, to purchase tobacco and cigarettes that will endanger their health.

Does the Member accept that allowing that to continue permits advertising, which, in turn, encourages more young people to take up the habit?

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP 3:30 pm, 3rd March 2009

I take on board what the Member said, and I do not disagree. However, some Members are failing to appreciate that no one is against the proposal; everyone is for it. The problem is with time constraints for small businesses and with how they will meet costs. No one is against the Bill, and Ulster Unionist Party Members must accept that point.

Within eight hours of smoking one’s last cigarette, carbon monoxide levels in one’s blood begin to return to normal. Within a day of smoking one’s last cigarette, the risk of having a heart attack has decreased, and within two weeks, lungs and circulation perform more efficiently. Of course, prevention is better than cure, so we want to stop people from taking up smoking, and that would benefit those people, as well as the Health Service.

Having set out the case for banning cigarette advertising, I encourage the Government to focus on the needs of small businesses and independent retailers, which deserve assistance. In many cases, small businesses are the lifeblood of local economies due to the employment that they provide, so they deserve some form of assistance in implementing the provisions of the Bill, which it is estimated will cost each retailer £5,000.

Sadly, small businesses have been the first to feel the bite of the global recession, and they are hurting from the impact of the credit crunch, so they must be given consideration as they carry forward the provisions of the Bill. The people behind those businesses are reasonable and responsible, and they deserve the assistance of the Government in implementing what are reasonable and responsible proposals.

Having said that, the motion is critically important, and the Bill’s proposals must be implemented as soon as possible. Every day that the banning of tobacco advertising prevents someone from taking up smoking, or assists someone in quitting, is a day of healthier living for that individual and a positive day for the Health Service. Therefore, our failure to implement the provisions of the Health Bill is simply not an option.

Mr McCallister suggested that the DUP was opposed to the setting up of the regional agency for public health and well-being. That is not the case, and if he checks the Hansard report, he will discover that we did not vote against it. All we wanted to do was to keep the various agencies within the board, and if he and the people of Northern Ireland read the Hansard report, that will be confirmed.

With regard to Mr McCallister’s comments about efficiency savings, the DUP has offered proposals whereby millions of pounds could be saved. Unfort­unately, because the ideas are from the DUP, and even though the money could be made available, the Health Minister does not wish to save those nursing jobs and residential homes.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. My name is Sue, and I aspire to be a non-smoker. I thought that I should get that out of the way. [Laughter.]

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

We are right behind you.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

I am glad to hear that. I saw Basil coming in, and I thought that Starsky and Hutch were arriving to defend the Minister, although the Minister does not require defending with respect to this Bill — he is quite capable of defending himself. Nevertheless, I am glad to see those Members in the Chamber.

Irrespective of what is happening within the party opposite, most Members have welcomed the opportunity to speak in the debate and will welcome the passage of the motion. I take on board the points raised by Members and people in the community, and I am aware that representatives of the Independent Retail Trade Association are in the Public Gallery.

Nevertheless, public health is the issue at hand and, during the debate, I was struck by the Minister’s reference to comments from Professor Paddy Johnston, who we all hold in high esteem as one of the leading lights in cancer research. Those comments helped me, and they raise a subject that must be considered.

In the past couple of days, many statistics emerged in briefing papers that were submitted to the Health Committee, and although I do not intend to go over them, it was made clear that smoking remains the number one cause of preventable deaths. The younger a person starts to smoke, the harder it is for him or her to give up. Kieran McCarthy mentioned that point, and I am sure that a sizeable proportion of Members started to smoke at an early age, because it was perceived to be the done thing. We must now re-educate people that smoking is wrong.

In an intervention, I mentioned the evidence given to the Committee by people involved in theatres. They argued that the number of people attending theatres would decrease; however, that has not proven to be the case. In fact, in America, the number of people attending theatres has increased as a result of the smoking ban.

Listening to the debate, it struck me that many Members, people and parents in the community criticise big supermarkets and shops for displaying chocolate at checkouts.

The reason why we criticised that was because it influences children and young people as they are going through checkouts. All Members have witnessed that. Bringing children through checkouts, when they see chocolate, becomes a nightmare. It is a battle to try and get kids through checkouts.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

I will give way in a second; I want to finish this point. The legislation aims to make tobacco less accessible for children and young people. I know that we are not talking about advertisement, as such; but we are talking about it when we discuss display cabinets. This is about making tobacco products less amenable to children and young people. I take Mr Easton’s comments about the retailers on board, and I will speak about that following Basil McCrea’s intervention.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Is the Member aware of the new point-of-purchase confectionery stands that are in place in the staff restaurant and in the Members’ tearoom? Their effect is to increase the propensity to eat. She should be aware of the damage that creme eggs have caused to my honourable friend Mr McCallister, a man who, we know, is trying to lose a few pounds.

Point-of-sale or point-of-purchase stands — call them what you will — are still the most effective form of advertising bar none, and that is what we are trying to stop.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

I do not know whether the Member is Starsky or Hutch, but I am glad that I gave way to him.

I raised that issue in the canteen the other day. I know that Members will not think it to look at me, but I am not a chocolate eater — I just did not have much luck. Perhaps, had I not started to smoke, and had I continued to play sports, I would not be as heavy as I am.

I agree with Basil McCrea; this is about a mindset. If a number of Members have raised that issue in the canteen, the issue regarding the display of tobacco products must be looked at also.

Earlier, I mentioned Professor Paddy Johnston; and Members should commend him, his staff and others for their work in this field. The British Medical Association (BMA) is the organisation to which we look for advice and guidance on many health-related matters. In such cases, we always seek advice from the professionals. The BMA welcomes this proposal; but, importantly, it also states that, parallel to this, smoking cessation clinics and other resources should be available in areas where they are needed.

It is not solely a matter of banning smoking in public places or banning the sale of tobacco products; it is about ensuring that the appropriate services are available in the communities that we are talking about targeting. It is imperative that such services are available for the people who want to avail of them and who want to stop smoking.

Claire McGill spoke on behalf of the Health Committee because the Deputy Chairperson is in Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Chairperson — to whom I send best wishes — is off ill. Mrs McGill mentioned the Independent Retail Trade Association. If we, as MLAs, want to do our jobs properly, we should be seen to be acting as a conduit between the community sector and Government and between the community and voluntary sector and business people. If those sections of the community are raising an issue, the Minister must take it on board.

In his speech, the Minister said that he was willing to meet representatives from the Independent Retail Trade Association. That is a positive step, but I do not think that everyone was listening.

We have been told that it will cost up to £5,000 to redesign shop counters. Perhaps I am being naive, but who pays for the construction of the displays? People in the Public Gallery will be interested in that question. I do not want to provide free advertising for any company, but promotions in bars, pubs and clubs are usually paid for, and supplied by, the company being promoted. I am keen to know whether tobacco companies provide the display stands in shops. If they do provide them, who pays for their removal? Will the Minister provide us with a breakdown of costs?

The Minister is right. I welcome his commitment, but, according to some of radio and other media items today, he will be damned if he does and damned if he does not. I also welcome the acknowledgement that we are sharing a land border. The cessation of smoking in public places in the Twenty-six Counties was welcomed here, and we decided to introduce it on an all-Ireland basis. We should not wait until 2013; we should learn the lessons now. I support the motion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I support the motion. Right across Britain, approximately 150 children start smoking every day, which, in itself, has got to be a reason for the legislative change. Half of those who go on to become regular smokers will die from diseases caused by the habit. Research shows that approximately 20% of Britain’s 15- to 16-year-olds — 16% of boys and 25% of girls — are regular smokers. Again, that is a cause for concern. That is the case despite an anti-smoking advertising campaign, attempts to educate schoolchildren about the dangers of smoking and the fact that it is now illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18 years of age.

Thair ir neir 114,000 deaths adae wi’ smokin’ ivry yeir oan un-laafu sales accause they hook weans intae the habit. Quhan cigarettes wur apgraded tae an 18 aige leemit, Deborah Arnott, heidyin o’ anti-smokin’ charity ASH, leuked fer mair missures includin’ a ban oan sellin’ cigarettes fae machines. Neir a quarter o’unner aige smokers buy thair cigarettes fae thae machines.

Each year, approximately 114,000 deaths are attributed to smoking that began as a result of illegal sales — children who became hooked. When the age limit for the sale of cigarettes was increased to 18, Deborah Arnott, director of the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), called for further measures to be introduced, including a ban on the sale of cigarettes from vending machines. Almost one quarter of teenage smokers buy their cigarettes from vending machines. Deborah Arnott also said that she wants big increases in the fines that are imposed on retailers who sell cigarettes to underage smokers. She said that she welcomes the raising of the age of purchase but that that will be effective only if the law is properly enforced.

Of those aged 16 and under, a massive 25% have kicked the habit early. That illustrates that the new smoking laws are, at least partially, working. However, the pressure needs to be kept on, and I support the Bill, which allows for further advertising to curb the attraction of cigarettes and is intended to ensure less attractive displays of the product.

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventative death and disease in society. Three quarters of those who smoke started as teenagers. For the overall health of the country, it is vital that further reductions take place. The latest figures show that 24% of those at secondary school smoke in their first five years there, as compared with 33% in 2003. Again, we see a trend away from smoking, which is one that we want to consolidate and improve on. Fewer adults smoking in the home is also a help, but we cannot become complacent. There must be careful observation of those purchasing cigarettes and rigorous enforcement of sanctions on those who make illegal sales to those who are underage.

When the ban on the active promotion of smoking and on cigarette advertising on TV and in other media was first initiated, the cigarette companies’ response was to ensure that retail displays became even more eye-catching and attractive, thus automatically drawing the attention of young people rather than adults to them. In order that we truly follow the ideal of making smoking less attractive to people, while still allowing those who choose to smoke the freedom to do so in their own home, with no knock-on effect on anyone else, we must ensure that smoking is not something that the young people in our communities consider. Possibly the best way in which to do that, as has been suggested in the Chamber already, is to adhere to the maxim, “Out of sight, out of mind”.

Research has shown that young people are particularly susceptible to tobacco marketing at the point of sale, and that they are more likely to take up smoking as a result of exposure to such marketing. I have been to restaurants that have a Pringles machine, which vends crisps, right beside the machine that vends cigarettes — the attraction to young people is quite clear. The new proposals will ensure that that will not be an easy pick for young people. The machines will also be restricted to those who are over 18 years of age.

I am aware that the Minister has a desire to push for the changes to be made as soon as possible. Taking into account the fact that we are leading the way in upping the age limit for purchasing cigarettes, I support the drive to end the promotion of smoking and its attraction to young people. As I see it, no one wants a young person to start smoking — I think that we can all accept that, as it is the thrust of the debate. Therefore, the obvious temptation must be taken away. We are not restricting free will for those who are old enough to decide for themselves — any adult, man or woman, who chooses to smoke while knowing the risks has not had the opportunity to do so taken from them. The highlighting aspects of tobacco promotion are merely being removed. That is a good thing.

I am aware of the fears that small-business operators have concerning the issue, and we must understand those as well. I know that those businesses are in no way desiring to entice young people into smoking. They are firm in complying with the law and do not sell cigarettes to those who are underage. Therefore, I was heartened to hear the Minister issue the following promise:

“If the plans go ahead, the Department and local councils will work with relevant organisations in order to provide support, and to minimise any burden on business.”

I intend to hold the Minister to that, and I look forward to hearing his implementation plans for that matter.

As a young boy, I used to visit my grandfather, who smoked cigarettes all his life and lived until his mid-70s. When I was about five years old I asked him what it was like to smoke a cigarette. My grandfather gave me a cigarette and told me to take a deep breath. I turned green and was sick afterwards, and I never had the wish to touch a cigarette again. That is a pretty drastic course of action, and I am not recommending that we do that. However, there must be some restrictions on promotion and advertising, and the motion does just that.

I was encouraged to hear the Minister confirm that, following the introduction of the smoke-free legislation, we have enjoyed great success, with over 21,000 people setting a quit date through smoking cessation services in 2007-08. The Minister is right: that situation must be built upon, and I believe that the Bill is the way to build upon it and, in doing so, save lives. I support the motion and ask Members to do likewise.

Photo of Samuel Gardiner Samuel Gardiner UUP 3:45 pm, 3rd March 2009

I shall say a few words in support of my honourable friend the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety who is introducing this measure today. I also express my gratitude to Mr Shannon for his positive support for the motion — contrary to some of his colleagues, mind you.

When I was my party’s environmental spokesman, I believed in the principle that the polluter pays. Now that I am a member of the Health Committee, I believe that that principle should be extended to health legislation. There is no doubt that people who sell, promote for sale, or play a part in introducing young people to use tobacco are polluters. As with the environmental polluters, there is a cost associated with that pollution; as with environmental pollution, that cost is often picked up by the taxpayers.

There can be no doubt that the cost of healthcare directly attributable to the use of tobacco is enormous, as, indeed, is the cost of healthcare associated with the consumption of alcohol. Many smokers end up with serious life-limiting and life-threatening diseases, which have to be treated by the National Health Service at a great cost to the taxpayer and at a time when health budgets are being constrained. Around 75% of all adults in Northern Ireland who smoke started to smoke in their teenage years; 9% of children in Northern Ireland aged between 11 and 16 are now regular smokers. Those children are often three times more likely to die of cancer due to smoking than those who start to smoke in their mid-20s.

Vending machines are the main source of supply of cigarettes for 20% of young people aged between 11 and 15, compared to just 6% of adults. The British Heart Foundation estimates that, across the United Kingdom in 2006, 46,000 children purchased their cigarettes from vending machines.

Today’s measure is timely. It is high time that we conformed to new national legislation, which prohibits the display of tobacco products for sale and means that shops that sell tobacco products must keep them out of sight. Cigarette vending machines would be illegal. That measure reduces significantly the ability of teenagers and children to purchase tobacco products, and it reduces their exposure to visual marketing pressures. It has been shown that, where action has been taken to reduce cigarette advertising, there is an immediate 10% drop in cigarette sales.

For all of those good reasons, I support the Minister’s legislative consent motion, and I welcome his comments about his plans to further restrict access to vending machines by those aged under 18. I welcome the comments of those Members who have spoken in support of the motion, and I also commend the Member who spoke on behalf of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

In response to Mr McCarthy’s accusation that the DUP has a flippant attitude to health, I assure him that that is not the case at all.

However, I want to focus on the part of the Bill that deals with the display of tobacco products. The damage to society and to individual health caused by smoking is clear-cut and indisputable. I have, and will, support measures that will save lives. Indeed, I supported the smoking ban, which, of course, protects non-smokers from inhaling secondary smoke in bars, clubs and restaurants.

I asked the Health Minister what impact the ban has had. It is probably too early for significant evidence to emerge, but a modest decrease in the number of smokers is being seen. More importantly, there is protection for non-smokers who go to restaurants and pubs.

I also supported, and spoke in the House in favour of, raising the age at which one can legally buy tobacco products. I support the Bill’s proposals to phase out vending machines and I back the banning of 10-packs of cigarettes, to which young people are more likely to get access. Vending machines in particular can give people who are underage access to cigarettes, and those machines should be phased out.

I also do not believe that it is appropriate to advertise a product that can be so damaging to health. I am aware that some companies, such as Camel, used cartoon characters in an advertising campaign that, it could be argued, specifically targeted children, which is wrong. Of course, I also support any assistance that can be given to people who want to quit smoking.

However, for a number of reasons, I have some difficulties with what is proposed in relation to the display of cigarettes. I hope that the Minister will address some of those issues at the end of the debate, because I asked John McCallister what public health message was sent by banning the displaying of cigarettes. I am glad that Sue Ramsey at least tried to address that matter by explaining that displays could be seen as advertising.

I will go through the difficulties that I have, and I hope that the Minister will respond to them.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Unfortunately, I was not in the Chamber to hear Mr Ross talk about point of sale. However, I will mention in my speech later in the debate that for 10 years I worked for Mars confectionery. I can give Mr Ross exact statistics about the impact of impulse sales from point of purchase. At its most effective, advertising is within the “arc of ease” — so a customer can pick products up. [Interruption.]

No, you asked the question, Mr Ross, you said that you did not get an answer. Let me tell you — [Interruption.]

I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, but once I have the Floor, I have the Floor.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

You asked the question, Mr Ross. You insinuated that Mr McCallister did not give an answer. The answer comes from the UUP clear and loud — advertising is not the way forward for products that kill people.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

Well, that was not the question, and Mr McCallister did not answer my question. I will deal with that right now. I have no dispute about what the Member said. However, under current law, under 18s cannot buy tobacco products at the counter. If adults have impulse buys, I will not tell them that they cannot buy something. An adult is old enough to make his or her own decisions, and I do not think that it is the role of Government to interfere in an adult’s decision-making process.

I am not a supporter of big Government or of a nanny state. Ultimately, individuals must take decisions for themselves. I question whether an individual who has never smoked in his or her life would walk into a retail outlet to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread, then suddenly impulse buy tobacco products on display behind the counter. A smoker will buy them; a non-smoker will not.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I will give way again in a wee minute, because the Member has not spoken yet in the debate, and I am sure that he will address those issues in his speech. I will give way later on.

I just do not believe that that sort of impulse buying will happen. I think that the marketing and displaying of a product is very different from advertising a product, which, in the case of tobacco, was banned many years ago. It is not particularly fair for a retailer to be forced to hide what is still a legal product; albeit, a product that can harm health, which I readily admit. To tell a retailer that he cannot display a legal product is wrong.

On a point that has been made by my party; if the legislation goes through, many retailers who are opposed, but resigned, to the legislation say that they will be disadvantaged, because they must comply with it much more quickly than retailers in GB. I believe that that puts them at a disadvantage, and it is something that I hope that the Minister will reconsider.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member said that that will put our local retailers at a disadvantage compared to other parts of the United Kingdom. The competition for retail here is between corner shops and supermarkets. If the Member and his party were serious about wanting to protect local shops, we should try to regulate the continual expansion of supermarkets, because that is where the competition is. Why is it taking so long to introduce planning policy statement 5, which will make it more difficult for supermarkets to expand? That is where the real competition is.

Another practical measure that could be taken is to consider cases in which there is a need to support shops because of a lack of choice regarding the small business rates relief. Those are two practical methods of helping local shops. To use this issue to continue to endanger young people’s health is most unfortunate and disingenuous. We should protect our young people’s health and also protect our local shops. Those are two separate issues, and should be dealt with accordingly.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

What is disingenuous is the emotional argument that banning the display of cigarettes will suddenly prevent young people from wanting to smoke. It is illegal for young people to buy tobacco products until they are 18 years old, when they become adults. Schemes to make sure that retailers do not sell tobacco products to under-18s are important. It is also important to prosecute retailers that sell tobacco to under-18s and to prosecute people who buy tobacco products for under-18s.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. I waited patiently, but somebody else jumped the queue. Sue Ramsey indicated that she would like to give up smoking. For people who want to give up smoking, the enticement is in shops when they buy milk or their groceries — tobacco products are right in front of them.

The benefit is not for under-18s in that instance: it is for the people who want to give up smoking. I believe that everybody will join us in saying that we want to see people give up smoking voluntarily.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I am glad that the Member did not mention how the proposal will save young people, because that is not the issue for over-18s. If somebody is an adult, they are wise enough to decide for themselves whether they will buy something. Plastered all over the displays that are behind the counters is the message that smoking is damaging to people’s health, and can kill. Adults will read that message and can decide whether to take that course of action. It is not the role of Government to interfere in people’s lives to that extent. They should not tell those people that they cannot buy something or cannot see the product that they want to buy.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. When I was speaking, I highlighted some of the facts that suggest that young people get hooked on cigarettes and that many of them are addicted by the age of 18 or 19. That is all part of a strategy.

The Member seems to believe in a free-for-all; that people can do whatever they like when they are over the age of 18. He seems to think that when people reach that age, they are adults and can make up their own minds, and can decide for themselves whether they want to drink too much, smoke too much, or whatever. Consider the statistics and the health inequalities that desperately need to be addressed. Thankfully, the Minister is beginning to get to grips with those matters by setting up a public health agency. The Member’s colleague Mr Easton mentioned that the DUP was not opposed to that proposal, but the DUP was opposed to the establishment of an independent public health agency. It wanted the agency to be stuck in a corner with something else.

That is exactly the type of agency that will shine a light and put a focus on public health. [Interruption.]

The Member may not care much about that issue. I was very generous with my time to Mr Ross. This is about preventing people from getting hooked on cigarettes early. As other people have said — even the Member’s party colleague — it is about intervening early and stopping advertising at the point of sale.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. That was a very long intervention, Mr McCallister. Members should not abuse the courtesy shown to them, and I remind the House that interventions should be as brief and to the point as possible.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I agree with you totally, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not mind giving way to the Member, but I ask her to be brief. I will give way in just a minute, but, first, I want to address two of the issues that have been raised.

Mr McCallister again talked about protecting young people, but that is not an issue. Of course I do not want young people to take up smoking. That is why I supported measures proposed in the House to raise the smoking age limit to 18, and why I supported stronger enforcement against retailers who break that law or individuals who buy tobacco for young people.

As regards whether adults should be able to do what they like, as long as they are not breaking the law adults should be able to make those decisions for themselves, because I believe in individuals having that freedom.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you for giving way; I will be brief. I am very concerned about the direction in which the Member’s contribution is headed. The suggestion seems to be that we should not try to influence people over the age of 18 to look after their health and that we should not show them leadership. As a member of the Health Committee and a health professional, why would I not encourage and advise people not to take up smoking? Also, a person can be over the age of 18 but still be very young, and many are easily influenced by advertising. We must take that into account, as well.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I am not saying that we should not encourage people to be healthy and to give up smoking; rather, I am saying that, as a Government, we should not ban people from making a decision that is ultimately their own.

I want to make some progress here. We must look at the evidence that supports the specific proposal about banning the display of cigarettes. I have heard Members say today that banning those displays would reduce the number of smoking-related deaths or the number of young people who start smoking. If that were the case, I would be happy to support the proposal, but I must say that I question whether those proposals will achieve that aim.

As I have already said, cigarettes should not be sold to children. That is already the case, and I have talked about increased enforcement of ID schemes and the need for stronger enforcement measures against those who purchase cigarettes for children. However, let us consider examples from across the world. New Zealand, for example, is recognised as having some of the strictest anti-tobacco laws anywhere in the world, but its Parliament has said that legislation to ban the display of cigarettes would make absolutely no difference.

The Minister talked about Iceland. However, the display of cigarettes has been banned in Canada and Iceland, and there has been no reduction in the amount of cigarettes sold there. I think that the Minister also mentioned the 15-year-old and 16-year-olds who would stop smoking, but it is illegal for them to smoke anyhow. If we are taking the existing law seriously, then 16-year-olds, and, under the new law, 17-year-olds, will not be able to smoke and should not be buying cigarettes. As I said, neither Canada nor Iceland has seen a reduction in the overall number of people who smoke.

However, the evidence shows the impact of such a ban on retailers; we have heard about the million of pounds that it will cost them. When proposing legislation that tries to achieve a certain desired outcome, we must be careful about the unintended consequences — in this case, that may well mean damage to the retail sector in Northern Ireland. I am not sure that the case has been sufficiently made that banning the display of cigarettes would improve the health of everybody in the country. I would naturally resist anything that places an additional burden on small shops without having that evidence in front of me.

I also find it interesting that both the Conservative Party — with which the Ulster Unionist Party has now joined up — and the Liberal Democrats have stated that if they were in power, they would reverse this legislation. I wonder how the Minister can square his position with the fact that his new partners would reverse the legislation if they came into power.

That said, I support continuing efforts to educate people about the dangers of smoking. As I said, I certainly support the proposal to ban vending machines, because it is a practical measure that can make a real difference. I would also support the banning of 10-packs of cigarettes, which, again, are more commonly bought by young people. That is important. We should continue our efforts to ensure that children do not start smoking, are not sold cigarettes and do not get other people to buy cigarettes for them. However, I remain unconvinced about some aspects of the proposals being outlined today. I look forward to hearing the Minister address some of those concerns in his closing remarks.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

At the outset, I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. That fact will become relevant later, when I talk about the risks to young people.

I am fundamentally, absolutely and completely opposed to smoking. I am opposed to it because it kills people, it is addictive, and the costs to the National Health Service and to every taxpayer in this country are tremendous. I know that there are people in this place who make their living out of tobacco, but I cannot countenance its continued sale.

The question is sometimes asked as to whether smokers should even be treated in hospitals. The answer, of course, is that they must be treated, because humanity dictates that they are. Many of those people are addicted, and they became addicted when they were young and did not know about the implications of smoking. Therefore, we must help them. However, any proposals that we can introduce now to prevent people from becoming addicted, or to help them to give up this evil, should be supported.

I support Carmel Hanna’s statement. However, I am completely confused by the ambivalence shown by the party to my left. On the one hand, Members from that party say that they support the proposals, that they are against smoking, and that they do not want to kill people, but, on the other hand, they trot out the line that by the way, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats think that the display of cigarettes is OK.

If people are opposed to the display ban, they are opposed to it, and they should oppose it on principle. We are opposed to it on principle. It is not that we want retailers to be destitute — and we will look at that issue. At the same time, we do not want people who work in the industry to be thrown out on the street. We must also work on that matter. However, as other Members pointed out, the real costs of smoking are picked up by our society and by our National Health Service.

If I were asked, I would say that three major challenges face us: smoking; alcohol abuse in minors; and obesity. As politicians, we must start to show leadership. If there is a bank of cigarettes behind every shopping till, it sends out a message that smoking is socially acceptable. People talk nonsense when they say that smoking is illegal for people who are under 18, but when did that ever stop people who are under 18 from getting hold of that product? That is why we want to get rid of vending machines. Although they account for only 1% of sales, many young people buy their cigarettes from them.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

The Member will have heard me argue that I support that element of the proposals, because I understand how it will stop young people from buying cigarettes. However, I questioned how banning the display of cigarettes will prevent young people from getting hold of them, because they are getting hold of them illegally anyway and will continue to do so. What is proposed will impact negatively on retailers.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

I have tried to make this point several times. There is a multitude of things that we are trying to sort out, one of which is that people who wish to give up smoking should be given every assistance to do so, and putting temptation in their way is not helpful. I assure the Member that if sweets or crisps were no longer sold —

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

The Member mentioned earlier that he had 10 years’ experience working for Mars confectionery. The key issue is about advertising and whether it is formal, professional or psychological advertising. Therefore, it might be useful for the debate if the Member could give us some trade secrets about how millions of pounds were spent by the company that he previously worked for to sell its products.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

I thank the Member for giving me that opportunity, and I will do just that. Not only was I in the business of selling confectionery, but I had some connection with the tobacco trade — with Philip Morris and Marlboro. Members will recall that when the ban on advertising tobacco was introduced, large posters were erected that did not contain any advertising — they merely had one block colour, and at the bottom of the poster, it stated that the product would kill you.

Later, companies started to try to put advertising on shop fascias, in the same way as the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ and the ‘News Letter’ do, because they know that point of presence works. Therefore, when one gets into all those issues, the simple fact is that what sells most products is ease of access and availability.

That is why, if we believe that it is socially irrespon­sible to push a product that kills people, ruins lives and costs us a fortune, we should take every step to ban its display.

I hope that the Minister does more: I hope that he intervenes earlier than he has said he will, and I hope that he introduces legislation to regulate the selling of tobacco in the same way that we regulate sales of alcohol. It has exactly the same effect. Our young people —

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I thank the Member for giving way, and I have no wish to cut him off in full stream.

However, the Member mentioned his membership of the Policing Board, and I, too, am a member of that board. The facts are as follows: 56% of all tobacco consumed in Northern Ireland has no duty paid on it. In other words, it is bought illegally. That is true of 33% of the cigarettes that are smoked in Northern Ireland — one in three. They are not bought from a retailer or vendor, but are either bought illegally and smuggled into the country, or bought abroad and brought back into the country. The advertising ban will not affect 56% of the tobacco sales in Northern Ireland and will not affect one in every three cigarettes smoked in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

The corollary of that is that 44% of all sales will be affected, and that is a worthwhile target. The Member talks of illegal sales and paramilitary involvement. If I had my way, I would make smoking illegal. It is detrimental to people: it is not right that the Health Service has to pick up the cost of it.

However, as others have pointed out, this is a democracy. We live in the free world, where, if one drives things underground, one ends up with worse problems. On that basis, I am prepared to let the sale of tobacco go ahead. It is against my better judgement: I advise people not to buy it. That is the way it has to be. We cannot make it illegal. However, I see no reason why it should be encouraged, and that is what point-of-purchase advertising does. Temptation is put in front of people, and even those who want to give up tobacco cannot do so because it is put immediately before them.

Frankly, I am really disappointed in the ambivalence that Members show on this issue in the face of tragedy. One hears of the deaths of young people, 30- to 40-year-olds and young mothers. Had Members attended Ulster Cancer Foundation events, they would have heard about the tragic circumstances of young people who have lost their mothers or fathers. That we cannot countenance.

There may be financial loss. A Member asked who pays for tobacco stands. It is a long time since I had any involvement in the industry, but, in my time, they cost about £1,000, and the tobacco companies — not retailers — paid for them.

Retailers may lose sales and profit. However, when I worked in that sector, I was told that tobacco and newspapers were demand-led — people came into the shop and asked for them. So what is the loss? If there is compensation to be paid, we should be happy to pay it. The long-term savings to society are greater. Perhaps we should consider reducing the rateable value of small corner shops or, as my honourable friend Mr Beggs suggested, making corner shops and convenience stores genuinely competitive. However, we should not force them to make a living out of peddling things that kill people and ruin our young people’s lives. The evidence exists, and it is simply incontestable. We must stand up and be counted on this issue.

Mr Paisley Jnr introduced me to folk who represented the tobacco industry: I am sorry for them. However, I cannot countenance anything that involves selling tobacco, encourages its use among young people, or prevents people from giving it up. We should give real leadership on this issue, as Carmel Hanna said.

I thank the Minister for bringing this legislation to the House, and I ask him to expedite it with all possible speed and to engage by all means with retailers and the industry to find the best way of removing the spectre of tobacco from society.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP 4:15 pm, 3rd March 2009

I resent it when a Minister comes to the House and presents an argument for something on an almost entirely emotional basis, and produces no evidence to support his argument. I would be quite happy to look at the evidence, and go through it line by line. However, when the argument to promote that action is purely an emotional one based on saying: look at this, children, and it kills you; look at this packet, and it will murder you; when it is produced —

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. That is a visual aid, which is not allowed in the Chamber, particularly given the product, I would have thought.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

When the argument is presented in such terms — look at this and you die — and has no bearing whatsoever on the reality of what happens, I think that that is wrong. There is an attempt, for a host of reasons, to blackmail Members emotionally into supporting the motion for that reason alone. My party has demonstrated, and said on the record — as have members of the Health Committee — that it will support legislation and action, but not on an emotionally charged, or a blackmail-charged, basis.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Will the Member give way?

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClarty] in the Chair)

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I will in one moment when I have made the point. I am happy to give way to you. We have plenty of time and I intend to use it.

I resent that blackmail allegation. I think that Members should resist it, and should not support the motion on that basis. If Members are going to support the motion, support it for proper reasons and not for the emotional reason.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. If the Member accepts that it is right to introduce this ban by 2013, and if it is right to do it then, why is not right to do so as soon as possible?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I will come to that, because it forms part of my speech, and, indeed, part of the question that I want to put to the Minister, which I hope that he will be able to answer.

Let us put the issue of emotion to the side, and let us address the facts. For several years, Government have tried, in a number of ways, to influence people’s consumption of tobacco. First, they taxed the product — and they have taxed it almost to death. What has happened as a result of that taxation? Consumption has remained the same or has increased. Secondly, the Government also banned the advertising of cigarettes and of the product. What has happened as a result? Has consumption collapsed or gone down? No; consumption has remained the same, at best, or has increased. Therefore, Government efforts to address the issue of consumption by the whip hand and by the hand of pressure have, quite frankly, failed.

Not so long ago, I asked the Minister a parliamentary question: did the higher rates of taxation cause anyone to suggest that they wanted to give up smoking? The Minister, quite truthfully, answered “no”.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

In a moment. People’s attitudes towards consumption were not affected if they were overtaxed

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Following the Member’s argument, is he advocating the legalisation of cannabis and other drugs, which are equally harmful and also addictive? In fact, tobacco is more addictive, and that might be part of the reason that people have not given up. Is he advocating the legalisation of cannabis, because, surely, if people are going to smoke cannabis anyway, we might as well tax it?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

There we have the irrational, emotional argument: oh, if you are going to encourage people to smoke, you therefore want to encourage them to murder. It really does not do the Member any justice whatsoever to make that case. In fact, some might wonder what mind-expanding substances he is on outside the Chamber when he comes in to use those sorts of arguments in here. Quite frankly, it does him no justice whatsoever.

Let us turn to the real point. The Department gives us the argument that has been made by the Member for Strangford Kieran McCarthy. He said that he wanted to see a policy based on:

“out of sight and out of mind”.

If that is the basis on which the House is to legislate, we are kidding ourselves that we can put things out of sight and everything will be all right. It has been demonstrated that none of the measures that the Government have taken — whether high taxation, the banning of advertising or the banning of the public display of advertising outside shops — have affected consumption. The little measure of making cigarettes invisible inside shops will not suddenly address the consumption issue. It will not actually work.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I will give way in a minute.

There are issues towards which the Government should direct their attention in order to address consumption. I am opposed to smoking; I do not want my children to smoke. If I thought for one moment that one of my children would take up smoking as a result of my taking a different view on the proposed legislative action, I would not take that position. I take a realistic approach to the matter. There are four measures that the Government could take, some of which have been mentioned by my colleagues.

First, greater resources and manpower ought to be made available for an effective, targeted enforcement strategy by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Some of the tax money that is raised from tobacco should be ploughed into manpower along the border in order to prevent the illegal smuggling of those goods into the country.

The people who really benefit from such policies as higher taxation and bans on advertising happen to be the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. I know that it is not the Member’s intention, so I will not accuse his party of wanting to encourage the paramilitaries — that would be wrong. However, these actions will have a consequence. Paramilitaries and other people who are involved in the illegal tobacco trade will be quite happy to thank Members for what they are doing.

Instead of people buying cigarettes from shops, where they will not see that product, the paramilitaries will be able to go around housing estates in Newtownards, Belfast, Ballymena and all over the Province and illegally distribute cigarettes to children and make money themselves. Believe me — it will not make any difference whether they are under 18 or not.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

The Member has made the argument regarding paramilitaries to me previously. However, much to my disappointment, my party does not advocate making tobacco illegal. We are trying to decrease the propensity for it to be sold on an impulse basis, which is what the point-of-purchase argument is about. In particular, we are trying to prevent young people from getting access to tobacco, because, as Mr Shannon and others said, 75% of people who currently smoke started when they were teenagers. It appears that the Member’s argument is that he is happy enough for tobacco to be sold as long as the Government get the taxes.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The Member misses the point. The measures that are proposed do not affect and impact on consumption. I have no doubt that the measures are well intentioned, but if they do not affect the consumption rate, they will not have the impact that we are telling the people of Northern Ireland, through the House, that they are going to have. If it takes someone to say that the emperor has no clothes on, I will say it.

Let us introduce measures that work. One of those should be to direct money to HMRC manpower. Another measure that would work would be to put money into and reinforce retail access prevention measures. In other words: no identity, no sale. Another measure that would work would be to punish and criminalise people who proxy-buy. I would far rather that people who buy cigarettes and give them to children be criminalised and punished. Those are the sorts of real actions that the House should take.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Those are additional actions.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

They are not additional actions. Those actions will make the difference, instead of pandering to a particular lobby to be PC or to be seen to do something. It is far worse to pretend to do something when that has no effect at all than to at least try to do something. We should try to do something that really will change the lives of people, as opposed to pretending that this measure will sort out the consumption issue. In years to come, we will be back in the House to say that another measure and another step are needed. Those steps have not worked.

A great deal of ignorance has been evident in what has been said about cigarette consumption; some of which has also appeared in the press. On ‘The Nolan Show’ this morning a Member said that the Bill would stop advertisement and display of tobacco products outside retail premises; such advertisements were banned long ago. Another said that the Bill would cut smoking rates; however, there is absolutely no evidence from anywhere in the world that it will have any effect on cutting smoking rates. Another said that it will stop the display of tobacco advertisements on shop windows; that has not been allowed for 10 years. Someone else said that it will save lives. Frankly, the jury is still out on that claim. Looking at a product will neither change nor save your life.

The argument has also been made that vending machines should be banned outright. The fact is that in the Province most vending machines are located in licensed premises. A 10-year-old should not be in licensed premises where he or she would be able to obtain cigarettes from a vending machine. If people fail to police that, that is a problem for someone else. That issue ought to be dealt with.

The first point on which I gave way to the Member for South Down relates to when the Minister intends to put the legislation in place. Members can have different views and arguments about where the House should be on that point. However, I want the Minister to make it absolutely clear when exactly he intends to introduce the legislation. I have listened to him carefully: he said that it may be introduced after July 2010. Introducing the legislation before the rest of the United Kingdom — to gild the lily — will not have any greater impact than to allow retail premises in Northern Ireland to take their time, save money, and put in place the necessary changes that all other retail premises in the United Kingdom will have until 2013 to put in place.

I ask the Minister to assure the House that he will not press the start button on the legislation until it is ready to run in the rest of the United Kingdom. In another place, he can ask his colleagues and members of his party who sit in the House of Lords and the House of Commons to argue for that date to be brought forward if he so desires. However, the Assembly must not disadvantage the several thousand retailers in Northern Ireland who, between them, will have to spend more £15 million in modifying their shops to comply with the legislation.

I appeal to the Minister not to introduce the legislation before the rest of the United Kingdom but to do so simultaneously so that devolution is not seen as a disadvantage to those businesses. The economic argument that I make is simple: for the past year, all that Members have heard in the House is talk of the credit crunch and the pressure that it has put on people’s pockets. The Assembly must not allow the Bill to apply additional pressure on people.

In a similar vein, I also ask the Minister to go to the kernel of the argument and to confirm to the House that he will not have to come back to the Assembly to press the start button on that piece of legislation but that it will be the Executive’s decision; they will have to agree when it is introduced. If that is the case, will the Minister at least allow the Executive to make that decision on the basis of all the reasons behind the Bill, which has hugely significant financial implications for our country?

It would be remiss of me not to mention the significant employer in my constituency. The fact that Gallaher/JTI is based in my constituency and employs approximately 1,000 people is incredibly important. That was dismissed by the Minister who said that the company exports most of its produce. Thank goodness that it does: Northern Ireland must export its manu­factured goods. The company injects about £27 million in employees’ wage packets into the local economy, throughout County Antrim and Belfast.

It would be remiss of the House not to recognise that swift and certain action that penalises the producer and the retailer will have a consequence on the product, which could, ultimately, result in that product being made elsewhere. It will still be smoked here. Consumption rates will remain the same, but cigarettes will be made elsewhere and imported to the country. Therefore, jobs in Northern Ireland will be lost.

I know that Members do not want to hear that fact, and some people think that it does not matter. In Northern Ireland’s current economic cycle, it matters and is very important.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I want to finish the point.

Therefore, the Minister should ensure that his actions do not jeopardise manufacturing or retail jobs in Northern Ireland in any way.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Member agree that the creation of smoke-free workplaces has raised awareness of the dangers of smoking and passive smoking? Does he agree that displaying tobacco products normalises those products, and, although looking at a product will not save a life or kill anyone, influencing somebody not to use a product that kills could save a life?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The Member’s point highlights a number of issues. Almost one third of a cigarette packet is used to state that smoking is fatal. If people want to smoke, it is up to them and is their free choice.

During the debate, we have heard arguments about the position in the rest of the world. New Zealand’s Prime Minister recently announced his Government’s decision to remove a similar piece of legislation to this Bill. Talking about the proposed display ban, John Key told a television station:

“The reason is there is no international evidence that it actually works, and it’s hugely expensive to do it. I don’t support at this time to change from the current situation.”

It was not the right time, because the economic credit crunch affects New Zealand as well as Northern Ireland.

I ask the Minister, when he responds to the debate, to provide some comfort that he will introduce the legislation only in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Moreover, I urge him to ensure that jobs in Northern Ireland are protected and that the legislation is introduced with the Executive’s approval.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley DUP

We should view the debate in the context and atmosphere of employment pressures. I am totally opposed to smoking. I smoked one cigarette, and, unlike Mr Shannon, I was not green — I was red, white and blue. I never smoked another cigarette.

I want to respond to some remarks that have been made during the debate. One cannot compel people to take the road that you think that they should take. They must be converted to that view, and only conversion will remove what is damaging them. We should keep that in mind. I am not saying that if I had my way, I would wipe them all out. I am saying that I want to convert them to the opinion that has been offered by almost all Members — that we condemn smoking.

My son spoke at length, and I agree with his comments. Furthermore, I agree that we need to examine carefully matters that will affect people who want to work in Ulster. That must be done in such a way that does not put greater pressure on people. That is all-important.

I listened carefully to the Minister’s remarks, and I hope that he will answer some of the questions that have been put to him. I will certainly be voting for the motion tonight, as will my colleagues; I do not think that any of them will be against it.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is going to talk to those people who are worrying about their own employment position. I trust that he will also meet with representatives from Gallaher in my constituency, and I hope that he will consider carefully what he should do about those matters. He should not just have a general meeting, which is what I know that some members of the Westminster Government do — they bring in a crowd of people, have a happy time and leave, but two days later those people find that they might as well not have been there.

I have been travelling to London with representatives of Gallaher every year for a very long time. Those representatives, who are in the Public Gallery tonight, were not at the first meeting, but I was, and we had wonderful talks with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, we got nothing done. I hope that the Minister will meet those people, listen to them, realise that that they wish to make a point, and take that into consider­ation as he makes his final decision.

I would also like the assurance that, whatever the Executive do about the matter when the Minister brings it to them, the final say will be in the Assembly and that the Assembly will be entitled to say aye or no to the final settlement.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I am grateful to the Members who spoke. The debate was long, and a number of important points was made. The general tenor of the comments that were made indicates that the House supports the legislation.

On that point, I will begin by outlining the situation as it now stands. I was asked whether I needed to go back to the Executive for a decision. The answer is no. The Executive decision has already been sought and agreed. I have agreed to provide a paper for the Executive, a consultation on regulations, and a commencement date. Those are the issues with which I must return to the Executive. That follows the process that was agreed at the Executive Committee meeting that was held on 15 January.

The Executive agreed to a number of points in the proposal. First, subject to timing and identification of acceptance, we should move to a position where the display of tobacco at point of sale is banned in Northern Ireland; secondly, the Department of Health should take further powers to ban or restrict the sale of tobacco through vending machines; thirdly, the necessary legislative cover for those changes should be advanced in the Westminster Health Bill [HL], which is due for introduction in the new parliamentary session; and finally, the Assembly’s agreement should be obtained in due course by means of a legislative consent motion. That is the reason that we are here today.

I have heard Members say overwhelmingly that they support the legislation, although there is an argument about timing. I will try to address some of the points that were raised. Mr Paisley Jnr said that the consumption of tobacco has remained the same or has increased. That is not, in fact, true. Consumption of tobacco has actually decreased over the past number of years, specifically since the introduction of the ban on consumption in public places. In 2007, 25% of adults were smoking, but that figure has now reduced to 23%. There has been a steady reduction, but there remains a hard core from a generation ago of people who are now in their 30s.

Mr Ross said that no evidence was available, but, in fact, there is clear evidence from Canada and Iceland that shows that there has been a reduction of between 30% and 40% in the prevalence of people under 18 who smoke following the introduction of bans on tobacco advertising displays at point of sale.

Basil McCrea said that display stands at point of sale cost the tobacco companies approximately £1,000 to produce. However, those displays are renewed routinely; the tobacco companies spend that money and distribute the displays free of charge, because they aid sales and promotion of the product. Tobacco advertising has a strong effect on young people; 11- to 16-year-olds are the target audience. Mr Ross said that it was illegal for people under 18 to smoke, so they should not be doing it. Well, listen — welcome to the real world. That actually happens, Mr Ross. You talk about not wanting a nanny state; well, your nanny must have been very careful with you, because you are divorced from the world that most of us live in.

Of the 150,000 young people between 11 and 16 years of age in Northern Ireland, some 9% — 13,500 young people — smoke. If we could achieve the 30% reduction that has been achieved in Canada, it will mean that 4,000 young people will be prevented from taking up smoking. If we were to achieve the sort of change that has been achieved in Iceland — a 40% reduction — 5,000 young people will be prevented from taking up smoking. As Mr Gardiner said, the onset of cancer is three times more likely among those who take up smoking as a teenager than it is among those who start smoking in their 20s. That is another reason why these measures are so crucial.

I am concerned about those issues, and that is why I have had to consider the element of timing. The longer we put this ban off, the more likely it will be that we will lose young people to the corrosive practice of smoking. I started smoking when I was a teenager, as did Sue Ramsey and Kieran McCarthy, and I found it very difficult to stop. Ian Paisley Jnr and others preach about smoking. I assume that as a son of the manse, he never smoked, but he is talking about something that he knows nothing about. To try to give up smoking after taking it up as a teenager is a very difficult thing to do.

One of the key triggers in breaking one’s resolve is to have to go into a shop to buy a packet of chewing gum or a bottle of milk, only to be confronted by a display filled with cigarettes. The temptation is to buy a packet, telling yourself that you will smoke one and throw the rest away. There is a strong addiction factor.

Our Health Service is looking after people who smoke and who pay the consequences in the form of cancers, coronaries and strokes. The key is to stop young people from ever starting to smoke. That is why I feel so strongly about the issue.

Mr Ross said that it was unfair not to display a legal product. Well, listen, Mr Ross: top shelf magazines are legal, but they are on the top shelf for a very good reason. Are you saying that, for example, nude magazines should be on display? By your logic, that is exactly what you are saying. You are saying that it is not up to Government to tell adults what to do —

Photo of David McClarty David McClarty UUP

Order. The Minister should make all his remarks through the Chair.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I will, of course, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Ross also said that it is not up to Government to tell adults what to do. Well, listen: people cannot just do what they want. That is why, for example, when I bring forward termination of pregnancy legislation, I will be telling adults what to do. That is important, and is something that the entire House will take an interest in. If I were to follow Mr Ross’s logic, people could simply do what they want.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

No, I will not give way. Mr Ross has had more than ample chance to speak. As I told Mr Paisley Jnr, I am now trying to respond to all the points that Members raised. It is a similar situation with pornography laws — one cannot simply let adults do what they want. Governments must take a view and be prepared to intervene. That is why we have devolution — so that we can be different from, or the same as, other parts of the UK, and that is a matter for us to determine.

The Irish Republic will start the process of banning the display of tobacco products in shops on 1 July 2009. Retailers in England, Scotland and Wales will start that process in 2011, not 2013, and it is a process that Government say will take two years. I am concerned that it will take that length of time, because, as I said, we can intervene with our cohort — even if we only hit the Canadian figure of a reduction of 30% in the prevalence of people who smoke — and affect 4,000 young people, who will then never get hooked on the corrosive and damaging conveyer of smoking.

Carmel Hanna and other Members made the point about vending machines, and it is a point well made. Ian Paisley Jnr said that vending machines are on licensed premises; however, they are also in hotels. Generally, vending machines sit in corridors, in lobbies and in other places where under-18s can go. Under-18s can access cigarettes from vending machines. British Heart Foundation evidence says that roughly 1,500 young people in Northern Ireland regularly buy cigarettes from vending machines. That is a conservative estimate and is the reason why we must introduce this policy. Vending machines are not sitting safely in well policed areas — far from it.

Thomas Buchanan asked whether smoking had increased or decreased among people since the recent measures were introduced. As regards young people, I do not know the answer to that. Those measures were introduced in 2007, the same year in which the last Young Persons Behaviour and Attitudes Survey was conducted. That survey is conducted every three years, so we will not know the answer to Mr Buchanan’s question until the next one is concluded. Evidence certainly shows that the measures have had an effect on adults, although any evidence that I have is purely anecdotal.

In 2007-08 we spent £450,000 on cessation services, which has been a key factor in helping people to kick the habit.

Dr Paisley asked whether I was prepared to speak to and meet retailers, representatives, shops stewards and advisers. Of course I am, and I prepared to listen to what they have to say and to talk to them. I spent a lifetime in business, including retail, so I have some understanding of retailers’ concerns. However, I cannot accept the argument that it will cost each corner-shop owner £5,000 to replace the free stands that a manu­facturer supplies, nor do I accept the argument about a massive loss of business.

We are not saying that cigarettes cannot be sold in shops. We are simply saying that cigarettes must be removed from those large stands that sit behind cash registers, and instead be placed under the counter. People will be able to buy cigarettes from the same shop that they always have done. Most retailers say that cigarettes sales are a curse, because the profit margins for them are so small, and the value of the cigarettes is so high, that if a retailer loses one packet, he loses the profit from carton upon carton. Cigarettes are, in effect, loss leaders. People go to a service-station shop to pay for their tank of petrol and to buy a packet of cigarettes, and, once there, they are tempted into buying a newspaper and a Kit Kat.

My experience is that retailers sell cigarettes because everybody else sells cigarettes. Retailers think that if they do not sell cigarettes, they will be disadvantaged. However, retailers would be far better off if none of them sold cigarettes, because shops cannot make a profit from cigarettes, given that the profit margins are so small. Pilferage levels are also very high. Therefore, cigarettes are a difficult product with which to deal.

I am grateful for Members’ support in the House on this issue. Mr Paisley Jnr spoke about Members making emotional arguments. However, he then proceeded to make an emotional argument about how it would cost £15 million to rectify shops and about how the Ballymena factory would close.

Even the Gallaher Group is not saying that or anything like it. Nor is the company talking about relocating. Most of the products produced by the Gallaher Group are exported.

I am not saying that we should ban cigarettes, but I am seeking to stop those young people who are most susceptible to the form of advertising that we are discussing from starting to smoke. That is what the proposals are about — stopping young people from starting to smoke. Everyone should support that, and one should consider opposing it, including those who say that they support the proposals but whose tenor is opposition, as with Mr Ross. Mr Ross’s comments were extremely disappointing — there spoke a non-smoker if ever there was one. He has no experience of a lot of things. [Laughter.]

I have said that I will talk to retailers and factory employees; Dr Paisley and other Members raised that point, and it is a matter of concern. The earliest that the measures can be introduced is July 2010, which is two financial years away for retailers and businesses. I would have thought that that is a reasonable period of time. I will carefully consider the suggestions about vending machines, because there is a strong argument for banning them.

I thank all Members, because, by and large, they made very positive contributions. I take heart from the support that I have had in the House and commend the legislative consent motion to the House.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of provisions of the Health Bill [HL] dealing with tobacco, and powers of suspension in relation to members of NHS bodies and other bodies concerned with health.