Section 7A — Sale of tobacco to under-age persons: variation of limit

Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:00 pm on 30 June 2005.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:00, 30 June 2005

Group 7 is on the sale of tobacco to underage persons. Amendment 1, in the name of Stewart Maxwell, is grouped with amendments 28 and 32.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Amendment 1 is intended to help clarify the policy intention behind the amendment at stage 2 that inserted section 7A. I am sure that Duncan McNeil's intention was not that ministers could take the power to lower the age for buying cigarettes to below 16. Section 7A(1) states that ministers may substitute for the age specified in the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 such other age or ages as they consider appropriate. I am sure that the current Executive would not do this, but the danger is that it cannot tie the hands of any future Executive, which could, using that power, reduce the legal age for buying cigarettes or other tobacco products to below 16. I am sure that that was not the policy intention behind Duncan McNeil's amendment at stage 2.

By inserting the word "higher" between the words "other" and "age", we would keep the power but ensure that the age could be raised or left at 16, but not lowered. The amendment is merely a technical one that attempts to clarify the original intention behind Mr McNeil's amendment, which was supported by the Health Committee at stage 2. Amendments 28 and 32 are consequential on the insertion of section 7A and we support them as well.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

This is my first contribution to this debate, so it is appropriate for me to acknowledge Stewart Maxwell's support for the bill throughout its parliamentary stages and for the contribution that his member's bill made in terms of flushing out a number of the key issues and concerns surrounding the introduction of legislation on smoking. His bill allowed evidence to be taken that established beyond doubt the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke and helped to move on the argument to where we are today.

The amendments in group 7, including Mr Maxwell's amendment, recognise that a key objective of the bill is to discourage young people from starting to smoke in the first place. Duncan McNeil and his colleagues on the Health Committee deserve a good deal of credit for the progress of the bill and Mr McNeil's stage 2 amendment gave Scottish ministers powers to vary the legal age for buying tobacco. Duncan McNeil made a powerful case that that could be an important contribution to the process of reducing the numbers of young smokers.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does the Scottish Executive have any intention of using that power?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

From the beginning, we have made it clear that we first want to be sure that there is strong evidence that varying the legal age of tobacco purchase will be effective in its stated aims. We have also been clear that any order to give effect to such a change will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in the Parliament. That is the effect of amendment 28, which meets our commitment at stage 2 to take this course.

Building on Duncan McNeil's stage 2 amendment, Stewart Maxwell's amendment 1 will allow ministers, responding to further research on the issue, to send a strong message by raising and maintaining the legal age of tobacco purchase if—but only if—such a measure is to shown to offer an effective way of discouraging young people from taking up smoking.

Depending on the further research that we have commissioned in this area, the provision is an important and valuable tool that might help to reduce the high level of young people who take up smoking. I am therefore happy to commend Mr Maxwell's amendment 1, as well as amendments 28 and 30.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

The Liberal Democrats are quite happy to support Stewart Maxwell's amendment. I have certain reservations relating to the question whether the fact that we view people as being adult enough to marry at 16 might make it difficult to raise the age of consent for other things. However, I welcome the fact that further research will be commissioned into why young people take up smoking or why they do not. That research will be valuable and if the evidence suggests that we should raise the age at which people can buy tobacco, that will be all fair and good. The research is the bonus that comes out of this process and it is fair enough to include in the bill the ability to act on that research.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I welcome the amendments that have been lodged by the Executive and Stewart Maxwell, because they give us an opportunity to review the age restriction on the sale of tobacco that dates back to the previous century, when smoking was viewed as harmless and glamorous. That was before the availability of scientific evidence that demonstrated the health impact of smoking. Knowing what we know now about the dangers of smoking, it is our duty to protect young people from them.

In 2005, is it correct to leave to 16-year-olds the decision about whether to buy cigarettes? According to a BBC healthy Britain survey, the majority of the public—particularly those between the ages of 18 and 34—supports the raising of the age limit. Furthermore, I am pleased to be able to announce that the British Medical Association conference decided today that the Government should be more effective in denying the supply of alcohol and tobacco to minors and that the minimum legal age for the sale of cigarettes should be raised to 18—that is now BMA policy.

Several European countries, including Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Malta, Norway and Poland have set the minimum age for tobacco sales at 18. As we know, the age restrictions in North America are even stricter; some American states have set the age limit at 21. Recently, Nova Scotia and Ontario increased the age limit to 19.

Of course, there is no need to look across the world for good examples when there is a good example under our noses. Guernsey, with its devolved Government, has introduced a package of measures to reduce smoking. It has increased to 18 the age at which people may buy tobacco and the island is now credited as a world leader in reducing smoking among young people. The number of young people who report that they smoke has reduced by half and only 3 per cent of 11-year-olds think that they will smoke when they are older. Nearly twice as many young people smoke in the UK as in Guernsey.

If amendment 1 leads to an increase in the legal age for tobacco sales from 16 to 18, we will not be a world leader. We will not even be the first part of the British isles to introduce such legislation. We will simply be modernising our laws to give children the protection that is the norm throughout the modern world.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 3:15, 30 June 2005

I was interested to hear the minister say that research had already been commissioned. Will he confirm whether the Executive has commissioned research on this issue that could lead to affirmative action, which he mentioned in response to Mike Rumbles's question, being taken through the Parliament?

Stewart Maxwell's amendment 1 will mean that the Parliament will still have the opportunity to have a full debate about the issue, based on evidence, before it makes a decision. That is a proper approach, with which we have no difficulty, although it is interesting that the amendment prejudges the evidence by suggesting that the age would be increased. That raises the question what we would do if the evidence showed that the age should be left alone or reduced. However, my main concern is to hear from the minister what action has already been taken that will help us to reach a view on the amendment.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On many issues, the Liberal Democrats place the age of responsibility at 16, so I find it rather strange that we are asked to support an amendment that seeks to increase the age to 18. I would like to hear from the minister how the measure, if it was implemented, would be effective. In my view, the most important thing is to prevent our 12 to 14-year-olds from smoking—that is the key, surely, and not the 16 to 18-year-olds. As I understand it, there have only ever been two prosecutions in relation to under-16s, so is the proposal not just a fig leaf?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am keen to support the proposed change, but I emphasise the need to enforce the legislation. The Protection of Children (Tobacco)

Act 1986 was a private member's bill that I put through the House of Commons to deal with a tobacco product called Skoal Bandits, which was a threat at that time—it was a sucking tobacco. The 1986 act was intended, by shifting the onus of proof, to make it easier to get prosecutions against shopkeepers and retailers who sell tobacco products to children. The Government of the United Kingdom at that time, to its eternal shame, failed to do anything proactive to enforce that legislation. I want the legal age to be increased; above all, I want the legislation to be enforced. That is essential for the safety of children and young people in Scotland.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

It is striking to note the extent to which smoking is rooted in youth. Some 90 per cent of smokers start smoking before they reach the age of 18. If someone has not started smoking by the time they reach the age of majority, it is unlikely that they will start thereafter. Increasing the age to 18 will therefore make a substantial difference. Some 30 per cent of our 15-year-olds smoke. Those figures are approximate, but they suggest that a large majority of smokers start before the age of 15, which is one year short of the present legal age.

I identify with John Home Robertson's comments on enforcement and prosecution. Problems with prosecution have occurred in the past. In fact, no prosecutions, convictions or fines were recorded for underage tobacco sales from 1996 to 1997. I know that the Lord Advocate is considering how to advance the position, but children's charities have been unfavourable towards the idea of using children to gather evidence. Increasing the age to 18 might allow charities to come on board with us on enforcing the law and prosecuting those who sell tobacco to young people.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

As announced at stage 2, we have asked a group under Laurence Gruer to examine such matters and we have commissioned research to start in September. Unfortunately, I cannot provide Mr Monteith with the results of that. If we were in such a position, we would take a slightly different view today. We have made it clear that the intention is to undertake that research.

Mr Rumbles suggested that amendment 1 would increase the minimum age to 18. It would not. The amendment would give ministers the power to raise the age if the research showed that doing so would be effective. Effectiveness, which is critical, was at the heart of the speeches by John Home Robertson and Irene Oldfather.

Provision has been made for action when shopkeepers or others sell tobacco or tobacco products to underage people. Fines of up to £2,500—level 4 on the standard scale—are possible; the same applies to those who permit smoking in no-smoking premises.

Mike Rumbles asked how we could make a change in the age limit effective. Duncan McNeil's comments on the effectiveness of age limitations elsewhere were telling.

Before we take any measures that use the proposed powers, we will return to the Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I welcome the support for my amendment 1 from various sections of the Parliament. I was going to say that it is obvious that nobody supports lowering the minimum age below 16, but after Brian Monteith spoke, I was not absolutely sure whether we all agreed on that.

John Home Robertson was right about enforcement. Enforcing the legislation is critical. There would be no point in making the changes if we did not enforce them. We should enforce the current laws and if we decide to change the law to raise the age, we should enforce that.

I agree absolutely with what the minister said about the group of amendments. All that I add is that when the order is made under the affirmative resolution, we will need not only the consultation. The Parliament will have to abide by and agree with what we want to do, because the Parliament will have the power to vote down the order, if it so wishes.

Many of the comments about whether we should raise the age are for debate at another time, because that is not the issue. The point is to ensure that the power is correct. My amendment would restrict the Executive's power so that it could not lower the age below 16. That is perfectly sensible. The evidence from Guernsey and elsewhere that Duncan McNeil cited made the point well. I hope that the Parliament will support my amendment.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Robert, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Ms Margaret, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Grahame, Christine, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, Morgan, Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Allan
Against: McNulty, Des
Abstentions: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Tosh, Murray

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 75, Against 1, Abstentions 17.

Amendment 1 agreed to.