Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 (Variation of Age Limit for Sale of Tobacco etc and Consequential Modifications) Order 2007 (Draft)

Planning – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:56 pm on 13th September 2007.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 3:56 pm, 13th September 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-445, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on the draft Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 (Variation of Age Limit for Sale of Tobacco etc and Consequential Modifications) Order 2007. I call Bruce Crawford to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the draft Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 (Variation of Age Limit for Sale of Tobacco etc. and Consequential Modifications) Order 2007 be approved.—[Bruce Crawford.]

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 4:49 pm, 13th September 2007

I will speak to the motion.

The draft order will raise the age for tobacco sales in Scotland to 18 years, from 1 October 2007. Making this country a healthier place is one of the top priorities for the Scottish Government and raising the age of purchase for cigarettes to 18 will help us achieve that.

We have already seen the health dividends that tackling smoking can bring if we are prepared to take bold, decisive steps such as legislating for smoke-free public places. The evaluation of that legislation shows that the number of people who have been admitted to hospital with heart attacks has fallen by 17 per cent since it was introduced.

We should not, however, view the smoke-free legislation as a case of job done on tobacco. We need to start with our young people by discouraging them from starting to smoke. Those who start smoking at 15 are three times more likely to die from a smoking-related disease than those who take up smoking in their 20s. Indeed, the younger people start smoking, the greater the likelihood of their continuing to smoke throughout their adult life. Raising the age limit for tobacco sales will make it more difficult for young people to buy cigarettes and it will bring the age limit into line with that for alcohol sales. It will make the law easier to enforce and it will help younger children to resist peer pressure.

The draft order is part of our strategy to denormalise cigarette smoking. Raising the age for tobacco sales should not be viewed in isolation, but as part of a wider range of measures that include prevention, education, tougher enforcement and help for young people to give up smoking. I have already committed to publishing a five-year smoking prevention action plan next year that will draw on many of the recommendations of "Towards a Future without Tobacco—The Report of the Smoking Prevention Working Group".

We need more vigilance among retailers to avoid illegal sales and more effective enforcement of the law by trading standards officers. We will ensure that that happens. We are already working with retail organisations and trading standards officers to ensure that the new age limit is introduced as smoothly as possible. Subject to the order being approved by Parliament, we will launch a communications campaign to alert young people to the change in the law and we will issue information packs to all tobacco retailers.

Smoking is the greatest preventable cause of premature death and ill health. I firmly believe that raising the age limit will stop more young recruits taking up the habit and reduce the terrible toll that smoking takes on Scotland's health.

I urge Parliament to support the motion.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 4:52 pm, 13th September 2007

I appreciate the opportunity to say a few brief words on the motion.

It is said that almost all political careers end in disappointment because no matter what politicians want to change when they set out, they inevitably become disheartened by how long things can take and how tortuous the system can be. However, perseverance sometimes pays off, as the draft order proves.

Back in 2005, when we amended the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill to give ministers the power to raise the age limit, I did not think that we would need to wait more than two years before the order would be introduced. Nor did I think that it would take this long when the expert group, which was led by Dr Laurence Gruer of NHS Health Scotland, recommended that the age limit should be increased. The hold-up was largely down to the delaying tactics of the Liberal Democrats, who have demonstrated over the period some confused thinking and policy on the rights of our 16-year-olds to drink and smoke. Nevertheless, I will not allow that frustration to detract from my delight that we now, at long last, have the chance to vote for a change that the evidence shows will stop young people taking up the lethal habit.

I support the motion and urge members to vote to make it harder for young people to buy cigarettes so that it is harder for them to make the worst mistake of their lives.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:54 pm, 13th September 2007

The Scottish Conservatives support the order, which will raise the age for the sale of tobacco from 16 to 18. It is worth pointing out that, over the past 10 years, the number of 15-year-old boys who smoke has decreased by 18 per cent and that the number of girls of the same age who smoke has decreased by 12 per cent. The trend is undoubtedly in the right direction.

We are concerned about several matters. How will the Government ensure that under-18-year-olds do not purchase from cigarette vending machines? How will the Government stop family and friends selling on cigarettes to under-18-year-olds? How can enforcement be ensured when the Government has not committed any additional resources for trading standards officers but has given a commitment only to consider that as part of the comprehensive spending review? Finally, how can the Government and the Parliament expect the order to be advertised, publicised and made known to all of Scotland in the two-week period between its being passed today and the implementation date of 1 October?

Today, the chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation said:

"we are dismayed by the failure of the Scottish Government to get the message out to young smokers" given that

"the change was first announced by previous health minister Andy Kerr on New Year's Day this year and was put forward by the new Health Minister Shona Robison in June."

The Scottish Grocers Federation also states—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Could we have fewer conversations in the chamber, please.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As I was saying, I am quoting from the Scottish Government—I mean the Scottish Grocers Federation. [ Laughter. ]

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I would be grateful if Tavish Scott would listen to my speech. If he does not, I will have to start all over again.

According to the Scottish Grocers Federation,

"the Scottish government has been paralysed by procedure ... Already, retailers and shop workers face intimidation, violence and abuse when challenging some youngsters to prove their age. Now, with 16 and 17 year olds set to lose their ability to smoke overnight, it is shop workers not the police or politicians, who will be expected to enforce the law."

I would be delighted if the minister could respond to that point.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 4:57 pm, 13th September 2007

It is always intimidating to follow the comments of a representative of the party that is represented by the daughter of a grocer.

Duncan McNeil has established a reputation for many things, but I think that almost everyone in the chamber will agree that even a passing acquaintance with the basic principles of liberal democracy is not one of them.

This is an important instrument and the Liberal Democrats will support it—we are persuaded by the findings of the Gruer report—but there is an issue of concern that will not be decided tonight or, even, by the Minister for Public Health. It is that, without a shadow of doubt, there is some confusion about the 10, 12 or 14 powers that are shared between the ages of consent of 16 and 18. The Parliament might want to address that.

In her evidence to the Health and Sport Committee yesterday, the minister was good enough to recognise that this instrument, on its own, will not be sufficient to achieve its end. I hope that the minister will follow up the undertaking that she gave yesterday to improve the situation in relation to enforcement, which Mary Scanlon talked about. Answers to parliamentary questions that have been asked this session show that enforcement in this area has been poor.

In terms of enhancing the powers of those who sell and holding them to account, I was pleased to learn that the minister is considering the introduction of some licensing. Liberal Democrats favour a negative form of licensing, which would give considerable powers over those who sell and would raise the possibility of addressing the issue of vending machines, which are unregulated by this instrument.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Christine Grahame, I can give you 45 seconds.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:59 pm, 13th September 2007

The process has been truncated to meet the timing of similar legislation that is being dealt with in Westminster—I would have thought that the Conservatives would welcome that.

It is fair to say that the fact that there were only 11 prosecutions in this area last year—which was revealed in an answer to one of my parliamentary questions—is poor. That is why I am pressing ahead with a proposal for positive licensing of the retailers of tobacco products. We wait to be persuaded that negative licensing will be sufficient.

I hope that that was 45 seconds.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

It was even less, and I am grateful to the member. The question on the motion will be put at decision time.