Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:16 pm on 24th September 2009.

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Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 3:16 pm, 24th September 2009

This Parliament has demonstrated its acute awareness of the unsatisfactory state of Scottish public health in respect to smoking. It introduced the smoking ban, which came on top of the United Kingdom's ban on advertising, and it introduced test purchasing. I understand that recent research shows that since the ban, the number of heart attacks in Scotland has gone down by almost 30 per cent. Our joint commitment to improving health is not in question, but it remains a fact that 12 per cent of boys—or perhaps slightly more—and certainly more girls still take up smoking by the age of 15. Indeed, approximately 80 per cent of smokers start smoking when they are under the age of 19 and, as the minister has indicated, they face correspondingly higher risks.

The bill proposes to end the display of tobacco in shops, to ban vending machines, to register tobacco outlets and to tackle enforcement. Three questions need to be asked about the display element, which I think the committee has asked. Is display a form of advertising? Is there evidence that banning display would have an effect? Are the actions proportionate?

The advertising ban that came in in 2002 resulted in the tobacco industry's classic response to any attempt to control it: companies multiplied the number of brand variations, with all sorts of justifications, and the effect was to double or triple the display area within shops. A question that I regularly ask pupils in primary 6 and 7 when they visit the Parliament is, "What do you see when you go into your local convenience store?" They refer to three things: sweets, alcohol and tobacco. I promise members that tobacco is always mentioned. There can be no doubt that display is a form of advertising. New types of colourful packaging, slide packs, ultra-slims, new products for young women and terms such as "cool", "smooth" and "chill" are all being used by the industry to try to deliver the new generation of smokers who are necessary for their profits. The advertising issue is clear: the industry would not spend the money that it does on it if it was not successful in achieving advertising and delivering the new generation of smokers.

Would a display ban work? Professor Gerard Hastings from the University of Stirling suggested in his evidence that it would in the long term contribute to a reduction in children taking up smoking. Surveys indicate that 83 per cent of children are very aware of smoking and feel that it is more likely to lead to them taking up smoking. The campaign by Cancer Research UK entitled out of sight, out of mind aims not just to denormalise tobacco displays but to ensure that those who try to give up smoking are not confronted with rows and rows of display when they go into shops.

Is the banning of display proportionate? Is the cost of the ban to the small retailer, whom we all want to support, particularly in the economic climate, proportionate? Given that the evidence is still equivocal from Canada—I believe that the evidence will come only in the long term—that is difficult to determine, but the Irish and Canadian experiences give us some insight. First, in Ireland, shops are using cupboards for tobacco, so it is not kept underneath the counter. Shopkeepers raised the issue that having tobacco underneath the counter would cause difficulties, because they would have to bend and would not have sight of the shop. Those cupboards appear to be inexpensive.

Secondly, the evidence from Japan Tobacco International was the most equivocal that I have heard in a committee. It said, "We don't think we'll support tobacco retailers." The evidence in Canada and from the Gallaher Group, which is part of JTI in Ireland, is that if the sales are sufficiently large, it will install £10,000 dispensing machines. The historical evidence is strong that the tobacco industry will do everything that it can to support such retailers.