Clause 8 - Prohibition of Free Distributions

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 6 February 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I want to discuss the general points of the clause that were not brought out by the amendments. As in previous clauses, clause 8, in subsections (6) and (7), allows the Secretary of State to determine through regulations the large part of the Bill that refers to coupons. We discussed earlier how difficult that would be for those who must work with the Bill, because we are, at best, handing over an empty box into which the Government can place the regulations.

I want to impress on the Minister the need to assist those who must work with the Bill with clear guidance about what is meant by coupons, given that we accept that doing away with coupons is a done deal. We argued that the phrase ``nominal sum'' was too vague, and the Minister agreed to look for another form of words. I hope that she will accept that producers of tobacco products should not be expected to go to court to determine what the law is in this area. The guidance must be clear, and if the Bill is insufficiently clear or could create a loophole, we need to find an alternative form of words.

I hope that the Minister has had time to consult with her civil servants so that she may respond to the legitimate inquiries of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) about loyalty cards. The more I thought about that point, the more important it seemed that we should not leave it to hang in the air. There is probably an easy explanation, but it is an important question, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley

I would not say that the hon. Lady misled the Committee about coupons this morning, but Staffordshire pottery is not the only thing that people can get from the tobacco companies. I thought that I should intervene to say exactly how coupon promotions come into the public domain. I have a Gratis catalogue that was published by Benson and Hedges in 1996. Complaints were made about it to the Advertising Standards Authority, or to the subdivision of the ASA that dealt with cigarettes at the time. It advertises many things, including children's skateboards, helmets, toys and garden tools. Other brands even offer international flights.

Those promotions are not just little knick-knacks for people to put on their sideboards. Coupons are big business, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out on Second Reading. People may assume that they are simply

a bonus that people get for smoking cigarettes and that it is not connected with anything else to do with cigarettes, such as their promotion. It is clear that if people are collecting vouchers, they will stick with a brand, because that is how they get the coupons for children's toys, or whatever. There are no iron lungs in the catalogues, but there are other things that they might find useful at some stage.

Some evidence on smoking was published in a report by the Select Committee on Health last June. A qualitative research summary report—``Brand equity check for Benson & Hedges in conjunction with exploration of the Gratis catalogue loyalty scheme''—was prepared for Gallaher by Colquhoun Associates in June 1996, around the time of the objections to the Gratis catalogue on the grounds of what people believed it promoted. Colquhoun Associates looked at the effect of the Gratis catalogue scheme and how it operated at the time. The Select Committee report, appendix 26, says:

``Benson & Hedges sponsorship of Formula One is entirely coherent with expectations and offers the brand many opportunities to capitalise on positive associations. For instance, by sponsoring Formula One respondents claimed it made them believe that Benson & Hedges was a big, major league, very powerful brand with plenty of money. It also lent associations to the brand with young, fast, racy, adult, exciting, aspirational but attainable environments. It was coherent with all that respondents knew of the brand but also extended associative territory to make the brand more youthful, more dynamic and more exciting.''

The point is that coupons are not just about getting something back for smoking a particular brand. They aid to the promotion of cigarettes, and clearly lead to wider identification. The difficulty that faces the Committee is how to pull apart advertising and promotion, which are interlinked as they sell positive images about tobacco in our society. That interconnection has been identified in different reports over many years. We must recognise that the coupon scheme, in part defended by the Opposition at one of our earlier sittings, is nothing more than the promotion of cigarettes.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I agree that we should not have the specific coupon to which the Government refer. What I pointed out, however, was that ordinary loyalty cards are caught by the clause. Is the hon. Gentleman happy about that, and will he make sure that the loophole that ordinary loyalty cards currently enjoy is not left open for tobacco companies to exploit?

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley

The hon. Gentleman is the only Committee member up to now who claims that ordinary loyalty cards will be trapped by the legislation. He clearly knows better than the parliamentary draftsmen and lawyers who have written the legislation: perhaps he is in the wrong job. The Bill is directly targeted at stopping the Gratis catalogue and other methods of promotion, not just by Benson and Hedges, but by many other tobacco companies. Those methods provide more than just little teapots for the sideboard: they do a lot to promote unhealthy tobacco in our society. The Government have recognised that, and I am pleased to support the clause.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

It is incumbent on critics of a clause or part of a Bill to try to help Ministers, and I hope that the Minister will feel that I am helping her. I pointed out earlier just how faulty the clause is, because it catches something that the Government do not intend to catch.

I may be able to help the Minister with a little story about my own office when I started up a company for myself in Yorkshire. It was an employment agency, and at the time in question about six people were working for me. Three were occasional smokers, and three were not. We were based in an office about an eighth of the size of this room, with a fairly low ceiling. The non-smokers were somewhat upset about the amount of smoke coming into our lungs.

I observed what happened first thing in the morning when my staff arrived. There was always an uncomfortable shuffling, then one young lady working for me would offer the other two young ladies a cigarette. Each would remember from the day before when it was her turn to offer, and each felt a social obligation to do so, as they would if they were treating in a pub. Once they had smoked those cigarettes, the next person in line would think, even if she did not really fancy a cigarette, that the others might want one, and would offer her cigarettes round.

That example of giving a cigarette to someone else—and the Bill would not catch this situation, since my employees were not part and parcel of the tobacco trade—provides a big illustration of how giving away free cigarettes is a promotion of cigarettes. There cannot be a cigarette paper between the two sides of the Committee on that. In my office, the six of us sat down to discuss how to reduce smoking in the office. We made a very simple rule, which everyone agreed to. Quite simply, no-one offered anyone else a cigarette. Almost instantaneously, cigarette consumption went down to a quarter of what it had been before, and one of the people gave up smoking.

I do not argue that someone in business who invites people to dinner should not give them free cigars at the end, even if that person has nothing to do with the tobacco industry. The Minister might say, ``That bloke Bruce is on to something. Maybe he does understand that there is a route here to reducing peoples' consumption of cigarettes.'' That, after all, is what we intend to do, and someone who works in the tobacco industry tells me that if he offered someone a cigarette in a normal social environment, he would be caught by the clause. He said that to advertise is simply to refer to something, and to give something away is simply a means of doing that.

The Minister might consider what she means to do, because the clause creates a rather strange situation. The Minister says that the Bill does not do what I suggest that it does, but at the same time she tries to say that the Conservatives are against reducing the amount of tobacco being smoked. In fact, I certainly want people to reduce their consumption of tobacco.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

It seems to me that every time the hon. Gentleman stands up, he contradicts himself. In the scenario that he has just outlined, the individuals who had bought the cigarettes gave them freely to each other. There was no gift involved, because they each bought the same number of cigarettes. The hon. Gentleman has merely demonstrated that my hon. Friend the Minister is the right person to be answering for the Government, because the Bill deals with a health issue. When the hon. Gentleman, as the employer responsible for the group, got the six people together, they realised the damage they were doing to each other's health, and stopped smoking.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I am not sure that the Committee is any further enlightened by my giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he would like to make a speech himself about how he believes that the clause will help matters.

Opposition Members are telling the Minister that the clause catches things that she does not intend to catch. Perhaps that will be a good thing, but people ought to know what they are being prevented from doing. The use of loyalty cards is clearly caught, and if the Government do not intend that, I urge the Minister to produce an amendment. She could say that retailers such as W H Smith that provide £5 coupons through a loyalty system could simply print, ``This coupon cannot be exchanged for tobacco.'' Using coupons to buy tobacco products is clearly one of the things that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is trying to avoid happening. I accept that the connection between receiving a gift and the purchase of tobacco would be a good link to break.

The tobacco industry understands that link, and that is a legitimate concern of the Government. If a father is smoking cigarettes and his child receives toys from the loyalty card, the link may suggest to the child that it is good if the father keeps smoking cigarettes rather than his worrying that if his father continues to smoke and dies, the child will have no money. That is a serious point, which the Government must examine carefully if they are to make sure that the Bill is properly drafted.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 4:45, 6 February 2001

I will try to respond to some of the points that have been raised on the clause, although we may also have discussed them during our debates on the amendments. We will examine the wording around ``nominal sum'' but subsection (6)—as part of clause 8, which sets up the regulation-making powers—is important. We are not aware of products and coupons being sold for a nominal sum at the moment, but that would be an obvious and easy way to get around a ban on free distributions. It is for exactly that reason, that we are keen to make sure that we do have a regulation- making power in this area, as we want to prevent future abuses and manoeuvring by the tobacco industry to get around what would otherwise be a ban on free distributions.

The hon. Member for South Dorset again made a point about credit cards and loyalty cards, and the position is as I set it out earlier. A credit card would not be covered, because a credit card is not a coupon. Nor, in itself, is a loyalty card. The points accumulated on a loyalty card could be interpreted as coupons, because they are redeemable—the loyalty card is not redeemable, but the points may be. The distinction that I made earlier, still applies: the key question is whether the purpose or effect of giving away the product or coupon is to promote a tobacco product? If one receives double points on a loyalty card for buying cigarettes, rather than anything else at Sainsbury's, where particular benefits may apply to the loyalty card, that would provide a specific incentive to buy tobacco products. A particular promotion of tobacco products would be caught by the Bill. If there were a more general incentive to spend more money, in the broader sense, that did not particularly promote tobacco products, then it would not be covered by the Bill. The test is whether or not cigarettes or tobacco products are promoted.

I want to clarify our earlier discussion about students, casual workers and others in corporate marquees who have signed on for the day. The phrase,

``in the course of a business'' is intended to refer to an ongoing concern. However, while people are involved in a business, even if temporarily employed, they are covered by the Act. If a student hands out cigars or cigarettes because he or she feels like it, that is clearly not part of a business and is not done in the course of business. However, if students are paid to do so, or if they are taken on for a day as casual labour, they will, unless they have a defence, be caught by the Act. If they knew what they were doing, then they are potentially guilty of an offence. If they did not know, and could not have foreseen, they would have a defence.

It is not likely to be standard practice to prosecute the most junior member of a company, but the principle set out in clauses 2 and 3 applies equally here. The Bill includes everyone involved in a chain. If those people know about and are involved in promoting or distributing the tobacco product—or, as in this case, in distributing coupons—and do not have the defence of having been unable to foresee its effect, they may be guilty of an offence. The standard that applies in the clause is the same as that applied in earlier clauses.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am glad that the Minister has returned to that point, which was left unclear at this morning's sitting. Her explanation is helpful. Does she accept that a group that we have not hitherto thought of alerting to the need to take a fresh look at the matter is the broadcasting corporate entertaining business—which I suspect will not be intimately versed in the details of the Tobacco Advertising Bill, which it would not regard as its core business?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The key issue is whether a tobacco product is being promoted.

I shall clarify the question of cigars circulating at a dinner party. If a private business man hands out cigars that are paid for as part of corporate entertainment, with a purpose of persuading customers to buy, for example, computer software, but with neither the purpose nor the effect of promoting a tobacco product, that clearly constitutes a defence. The inability to foresee that an action would promote a tobacco product would also constitute a defence. However, the Bill covers a tobacco company that hands out free cigars and cigarettes in order to promote a tobacco product or a company that pays another company to distribute free tobacco products in order to promote a tobacco product, whether they are being promoted to Members of Parliament or to customers at an event.

The purpose of the clause is to tackle free distributions of cigarettes—perhaps to students—toys, teapots and other goodies used to promote tobacco products. That is the crunch question: the Bill seeks to prevent the use of free distributions as alternative methods of marketing and promoting cigarettes and smoking. That is the health aim that we are trying to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.