There are a lot of Members here, and I am keen that all those who have indicated that they wish to speak should be able to do so. However, because of the numbers, I am afraid that we will have to limit Back-Bench contributions to three minutes. Front-Bench speakers will have no more than 10 minutes.
I encourage Mr Blackman not to take interventions from those who have sought permission to speak. It is my intention that Members should be able to speak, but it will greatly help their chances if they do not intervene on another speaker. Likewise, it will help everyone’s chances of speaking if Members do not take interventions during their three-minute contributions. I cannot force Members to do so, but I greatly encourage them to. If anybody has not let the Speaker know that they would like to catch my eye, they should let the Clerk know so we can add them to the list.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This august debating Chamber has probably never been so full at 9.30 on a Tuesday morning; the number of hon. Members wishing to speak shows how much interest there is in this topic. I will try to keep my remarks brief, as per your direction, because I know how many people want to contribute.
I wish to cover a particular set of issues, as I am sure others do. The key issue is standardisation of tobacco products and cigarettes, rather than just plain packaging, and I will emphasise that throughout my speech. I am delighted that there are so many Members here from across parties, all of whom I trust are here to participate in this debate. The issue transcends party lines. It should not be a party political matter.
I was delighted in April 2012 when the Government decided to consult on standardising cigarette packaging. However, I was disappointed when they then decided, in July this year, that they would not implement plain packaging and standardisation until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured.
As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Government consulted extensively. Some 665,000 people responded to that consultation, of whom 64% opposed what he is advocating.
It was not a referendum or a vote; it was a consultation. It is the power of the arguments that matters in a consultation, rather than necessarily the volume, particularly when the arguments are organised by a lobby such as Philip Morris.
I declare my interest as secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. In common with my colleagues, I think that there is no good reason for delaying the implementation of standardised packaging, for child protection and health reasons.
I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are already investing heavily in anti-smoking strategies through advertising in the print and broadcast media, hoardings in the street and smoking cessation classes? A packet of cigarettes says in bold letters, “Smoking can kill”. Any individual who makes a conscious decision to disregard all those warnings surely will not be influenced further by the removal of brand names from packets of cigarettes.
I will give way a bit later, as I have been directed by the Chairman not to take too many interventions.
My view was reinforced by a recent Observer article revealing that Philip Morris, one of the big tobacco companies, set out in 2012 to persuade the Government to
“wait and see what happens in Australia” two or three years down the line. That is undesirable. Most smokers begin when they are children. Two thirds of existing adult smokers report that they started before age 18, and almost two in five started before age 16. I have no objection if people choose to put a cigarette in their mouth, light it and help kill themselves—if that is what they choose to do, they have that right. However, I object to innocent children starting the habit and then not being able to give it up.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I call him my hon. Friend on this occasion because we are on the same team. I gave up smoking when I was nine years old, believe it or not. I had two older sisters. They did not encourage me to smoke, but I used to get cigarettes off them. I do not think that I was encouraged by the packaging at that age, but packaging is now clearly aimed at a younger market. Due to the annual number of deaths among smokers and the number of people who give up, the smoking industry needs new recruits, and it uses any means at its disposal to get them.
I thank my hon. Friend; I return the compliment on this occasion. As I said, it is key to prevent children from starting smoking in the first place. According to the analysis produced by statisticians at Cancer Research, which I do not think is disputed, 207,000 children under the age of 16 start smoking every year. If the Government wait for three years from December 2012, when standardised packages were introduced in Australia, about 600,000 children will begin to smoke before the Government take any action.
That is very useful for Philip Morris and big tobacco, but what a tragedy for the children, their families and their communities in later life.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he not agree, though, that if we adopt plain packaging, the danger is that we will simply add to the mystique surrounding tobacco products, inadvertently encouraging more young people to smoke?
As I shall describe later, the evidence indicates the reverse; I will come to that in a few minutes.
I am pleased that the borough of Harrow, which I have the honour to represent, has a lower than average smoking rate. The latest data still estimate that 500 11 to 15-year-olds in Harrow currently smoke, which is 500 too many. I am sure that other hon. Members here have much higher smoking rates in their constituencies. Clearly, the Government’s duty to local authorities to promote public health means that they will have to take action against smoking.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some research suggests that when young people and children start smoking ordinary cigarettes, they can then move on to harder drugs, destroying not only their health but their families and their future career and health prospects?
Clearly, the younger someone starts smoking, the more likely they are to increase their smoking in later life, and the greater harm they will do their health. Evidence indicates that the earlier someone starts, the more heavily they are likely to smoke later in life, increasing their dependency and lowering their chances of quitting. They therefore have a higher chance of premature death from smoking-related disease. The appalling truth is that half of all lifetime smokers will die from illness caused by their addiction.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns of cigarette packaging manufacturers that standardised packaging will be much easier for counterfeiters to copy? There is thus a grave danger that the very people about whom he is concerned are more likely to be smoking more dangerous illicit cigarettes.
I will come to packaging later in my speech. The key issue is the risk of counterfeiting under the current arrangements, and it has yet to be proven what action can be taken about that. With standardised packaging, measures are possible to make it harder for the illicit trade to continue.
The illnesses are awful—lung cancer, other cancers, emphysema, peripheral vascular disease. Doctors and medical professionals do not support tobacco control measures, including standardisation of packaging, out of some perverse desire to control people and tell them what to do; they support tobacco control because they have seen hundreds of patients dying from terrible and preventable diseases. They want that dreadful waste of life to end, and we should listen to them. I declare a personal interest: both my parents died of cancer when I was young, because of tobacco and no other reason.
Children in poorer communities in particular—high-risk groups, specifically—are more likely to smoke. For example, 45% of smokers in routine and manual occupations report that they began to smoke before the age of 16; 57% of teenage mothers smoked during pregnancy; and in 2002, the Office for National Statistics reported that a truly shocking 69% of children in residential care were smokers. Starting to smoke is associated with a range of key risk factors, including smoking by parents, siblings and friends, and exposure to tobacco marketing. In my judgment, most people start smoking at stressful times in their lives.
Packaging is used by the tobacco industry as a residual form of advertising, since all other forms are now unlawful. Smokers display the branding every time they take their pack out to smoke. The industry understands that well. Helpfully, Philip Morris International’s submission to the Government consultation on the future of tobacco control stated:
“Packaging is…a means of communicating to consumers about what brands are on sale and in particular the goodwill”— to use the term literally—
“associated with our trademarks, indicating brand value and quality.”
Nowhere else would someone get away with a product that kills people being advertised in such a way.
Peer-reviewed studies, summarised in the systematic review of evidence cited in the Department of Health’s consultation document, have found that standard packaging, compared with branded cigarettes, is less attractive to young people, improves the effectiveness of health warnings, reduces mistaken beliefs that some brands are safer than others and is, therefore, likely to reduce smoking uptake among children and young people. That evidence is from the Department of Health, which is not yet acting on it. More recent evidence from Australia is that smokers using standard packs are more likely to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers using brand packs. That is only the early evidence.
So-called plain packaging is actually “stark staring truth” packaging, and has nothing to do with mystique. It will not increase mystique; such packaging will simply help vulnerable children stop being the new recruits for an industry that is killing its customers.
Indeed. In Australia, we have seen immediately that standard packs, which are often described as plain, are anything but. Colleagues in the House and members of the public have been confused into thinking that standard packs would be grey or white, with no markings at all. That impression has been deliberately fostered by the tobacco industry—for example, by Japan Tobacco in its grossly misleading newspaper adverts, which were rightly condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority. In fact, as in Australia, standard packs would be highly designed, with images of the likely health effects of smoking. No wonder the industry is determined to stop such packaging.
The evidence we already have amounts to a strong enough reason for action now. Are there any arguments against that? There are certainly a number of myths, endlessly repeated by the tobacco industry and its front groups. High on that list is the argument that standardised packs will increase the level of the illicit trade, as has been mentioned. That is fiction. In fact, data from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show clearly that the illicit trade in cigarettes fell from around one in five consumed in the UK in 2000 to fewer than one in 10 by 2010-11. That represents a great success for HMRC and the Government as a whole, partly as a result of the sensible decision by the Government to protect the funding for that area of HMRC’s work in the previous spending round.
People may ask whether standardised packaging would reverse that welcome trend, but there is no good reason to believe so. I invite any hon. Member who does to consider this fact: the three key security features on a pack of cigarettes are the numerical coding system printed at the bottom of the pack, which will continue; a covert anti-counterfeit mark in the middle of the pack, which can be read by a hand-held scanner and would also remain; and some features of cigarette design, in particular the distinctive marks on filter papers, which would continue. All those features would continue with standard packs.
Andy Leggett, the deputy director for tobacco and alcohol strategy at HMRC, said that
“there is no evidence that that risk”— of an increase in the illicit trade—
“would materialise to any significant degree.”
His opinion was shared by serving police officers, senior trading standards officers and a representative of the EU anti-fraud office, OLAF, when they gave evidence to the inquiry on the illicit trade conducted by the all-party group on smoking and health, of which I am secretary.
Standardised packaging is not a party political issue. It is strongly supported by politicians of all parties, many of whom are present for this debate. It is also popular with the public. Contrary to what my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth said, a February 2013 poll on the issue found that, overall, 64% of adults in Great Britain were in favour of standardised packaging—great public support.
A further poll by YouGov, conducted in March, showed support for the policy from 62% of Conservative supporters, 63% of Labour supporters and 60% of Liberal Democrats. There was majority support from all ages, genders, classes and political parties. Were there a free vote in the House of Commons, I believe that a significant majority of MPs would support legislation on standardised packs. I also firmly believe that Parliament should debate and decide the matter.
I remember, before I was elected, the 2006 debate on smoke-free public places, support for which was passed by a majority of more than 200. That piece of legislation has proven to be highly successful and popular, enabling people to enjoy restaurants, pubs and other facilities without having to endure smoke. That legislation was achieved in part because it was seen to be beyond conventional party politics. I strongly urge the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister to introduce a debate in the main Chamber so that we can discuss it and take a decision, with a vote, on standardised packs.
To sum up, fundamentally the issue is simple: smoking tobacco is a lethal addiction. Cigarettes are the only legal product sold in the UK that kills consumers when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Why should any company be allowed to promote such a product through advertising and marketing? The tobacco industry has made a great fuss about its intellectual property rights, but why should we allow any such claimed rights to trump the requirements of child protection and public health? The nub of the debate is that children, and the most vulnerable groups of children in particular, need protection from the tobacco industry and its never ending search for new consumers.
My hon. Friend has been most generous in giving way. He obviously feels passionately, as I feel passionately in the other direction. As a traditional Tory, I believe in a free society: people are warned of the dangers and should be allowed to make their own decisions. Given the passion with which my hon. Friend has argued his case and given his connection with the all-party group, is he really in favour of having tobacco banned altogether in this country? Surely that is the logic of his argument.
I do not agree with banning tobacco completely. If people want to put a cigarette in their mouth, light it and kill themselves, they make that choice as conscious adults. My concern is for young children who begin smoking before they realise the dangers; they then cannot quit, because they are addicted. The tobacco industry’s aim in its packaging is to encourage more people to start.
Tobacco packaging should be made as unattractive as possible. It should never again be used to try to recruit new addicts and new victims, particularly among the young. Standardised packaging is an inevitable and welcome step forward in tobacco control. I predict that it will come sooner or later, and on this side of the argument, the sooner the better. If not now, when? I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister making the Government’s position clear so that we know what it is. If they then refuse to introduce a debate in the House, we will.
Order. The speeches from the Front Benches will start no later than 10.40, so we have 50 minutes remaining. Hon. Members have the right to take interventions, but the fewer there are, the better the chances of all hon. Members being able to speak, which is my sole objective this morning. I call Nick Smith.
I, too, congratulate Bob Blackman on securing this debate and on his principled support for plain packaging.
It bears repeating that the costs of smoking are huge. The cost to the NHS in Wales alone is estimated at around £400 million. A Welsh health survey in 2012 showed that 23% of the population smoke and, sadly, in my constituency that figure is 28%. The Welsh Government’s commitment to reduce it to 16% by 2020 is a massive challenge.
The smoking ban has made our pubs and cafés healthier and more pleasant places in which to relax, but young people are still being recruited to the habit and more than 200,000 under-16s start to smoke every year. We expected that by now the message that smoking is bad for you would have ended the recruitment of new young smokers. Yet in the summer of 2012, when ASH Wales had a campaign road show around Wales to talk to schoolchildren about the impact of tobacco marketing on them, when shown the marketing currently on the shelves, they described cigarettes as looking like perfume boxes, posh tissues and even Lego.
ASH Wales estimated that 40 teenagers every day try smoking cigarettes. Cigarette packs come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and designs that are fashionable, colourful and attractive to young smokers. I have been told that slimline feminine packets are perfect for small handbags, and such comments underline why plain packaging is supported by the chief medical officer for Wales and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. It has majority public support of 63% and is widely supported by parents in my constituency.
I am pleased that the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services is looking at our devolved powers to see what unilateral action might be taken to introduce plain packaging, but I have no doubt that concerted action throughout the UK is the best option. We must defeat the mantra that those who want to up the pace of reform are advocates of the nanny state and greater regulation. Instead, we must show that plain packaging will save lives and money, and is clearly right.
When I was a child and until I was about 18, I spent every Christmas day on the wards of my father’s hospital. They were old Nightingale wards with beds on both sides. On one side of the male wards were the old soldiers whom my father and GPs had conspired to bring into hospital to give them a good Christmas. On the other side were men who were dying of lung cancer, which is a bloody awful way to die. In effect, sufferers drown because they cannot breathe. It is degrading, they fight for breath and they need oxygen tanks. It is a horrid way to go.
In the 1950s and 60s, many of the chaps who were dying had started smoking during the great war when the link between cancer and smoking was not clear. That is clear now, and although smoking rates have dropped significantly since the 1950s when my father was appointed a consultant, it is a striking and sad fact that one fifth of adults in the UK still smoke. More disconcerting is the fact that more than 200,000 children a year start smoking.
The point I want to make to the Minister—I understand her position of wanting an evidence-based approach—is that, having read the Library briefing and the briefing from various groups, which sensibly sent it to colleagues for the debate, it is not clear to me what research the Department of Health has done. We all know the desperate impact of smoking on people’s long-term health and the risks of dying prematurely, not only from lung cancer but from other illnesses. What research has been done to understand better why so many youngsters still take up smoking and what more can be done to discourage them from doing so?
Having a father whose study was full of cancerous lungs in jars was a pretty significant disincentive to taking up smoking, in addition to seeing people dying from cancer. There is a disconnect here. Human beings are supposedly rational and sentient, yet each year some 200,000 youngsters make a decision that will have serious long-term consequences on their health and that of others.
It is a pleasure, Mr Hollobone, to speak under your chairmanship. I assure you that I will have my hearing tested.
I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing this debate. As he and colleagues throughout the House who are concerned about the Government’s decision not to implement standardised packaging for tobacco products said, this debate is not about scoring political points, but about holding the Government to account for what many of us consider to be a wrong move.
Clearly, the Government have recognised the negative consequences arising from ready access to non-standardised packaging, yet they drag their feet, are adamant that the evidence is not substantial enough and insist that non-legislative solutions are better suited to the task in hand. Pressure on smoking must be continuous and relentless because we are fighting a pervasive, lethal and powerful addiction. Plain packaging fits the bill. Not only is there a real need for it, but it is a solution that is both wanted and workable. Tobacco is the only consumer product that, if used as instructed, kills half of its long-term users. All tobacco products damage health, so it is right that they are treated differently from other consumer products.
I shall make it clear what that means. In my local authority area of Stockton, more than 250 people die prematurely every year from smoking-related diseases. We have a lung cancer rate of 67.1 per 100,000 people, which is a staggering 40% higher than the national average.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the way to protect children is to act now? Around 50 studies say that the measure would have an impact, so the Government need not wait for the results of the Australian change in the law.
That is certainly the case. Children are the most vulnerable group and they need protection from exposure to lethal smoking in closed spaces such as cars and the tobacco industry’s never-ending search for new addicts. Marketing is known to pull children into smoking and the pack is just another marketing tool.
The tobacco industry is now prevented from conventional advertising in this country, so we must look abroad to discover its true intentions. I have been sent the wording on a US internet site advertising Vogue cigarettes, a brand that is owned by British American Tobacco and aimed at young women. They are on sale throughout the UK. One US site says:
“Vogue Cigarettes stand out among other cigarette brands for both their appearance and their unique recognisable taste...The all-white box design with a tiny coloured branch and different coloured leaves reflects the romantic essence that is Vogue Cigarettes”.
Another site says that
“the Vogue cigarette’s style was based on the 1950s couture…The length and the…appearance…is an attribute of the femininity”.
What crass nonsense! The tobacco industry calls these cigarettes “romantic” and “feminine”; I call them addictive and deadly. The real concern of the tobacco industry about standard packaging is, of course, that it would prevent them from marketing their products and recruiting new smokers, and there is a standard litany of excuses.
One is that standard packs would increase illicit trade. That myth has already been dealt with by the hon. Member for Harrow East. Another is that standard packs would put the packaging industry out of business, but let us not forget that we need to worry about the good health of the nation, and tough as it would be on employees and others involved in production and supplies, if that good health is to be achieved, we should not really be focusing on the downside. There are many other excuses too, from the damage that will be done to retailers and the loss of tax revenues, to the amazing claim from some in the industry that packaging does not really matter. So many excuses, so little evidence.
The case for standard packs is strong, and the need for action is urgent. On one side there is the rich and utterly cynical industry that is quite happy to market products that still kill more than 100,000 people across the UK every year—more than the next six most common causes of preventable death. On the other side is the medical and health community, politicians from all parties, and the general public. In the middle are the Government: they have lost the political will to act, so they must let Parliament decide.
As my hon. Friend Bob Blackman has made clear, the Government, at the behest of the very well funded, vocal and influential health lobby, are examining whether to introduce plain packaging for the nation’s tobacco industry. I, for one, believe that that is an entirely unjustified step and that it would create an unsettling precedent—the state prohibiting the producers of a legal product to use its legally protected and valuable branding. It is a serious challenge to all those who believe in free markets, enterprise and the economic system of capitalism.
I would very much agree with what was said in the earlier exchanges: if it is such a terrible product, have the honesty, as many in the health industry do not, to say that the whole product should be banned. I would accept that if it is felt to be such an unhealthy product, it should be banned, but we would also then be going down a road that would probably, before long, affect the alcohol industry, fatty foods and so on. That is not a state of affairs that I would like.
Would my hon. Friend not wish to make a distinction between moderate consumption of alcohol and fatty foods, which is perfectly tolerable, and moderate consumption of cigarettes, which have an appalling effect, no matter how many are consumed? There is a real distinction.
No doubt the health lobby would quickly suggest that alcohol and fatty foods were equally intolerable, even at the lowest level.
Let me make it clear at the outset: I accept fully that tobacco is addictive, but it is a legal drug for adults. I am the father of two young children—a son of five and a daughter of two—and I would not want them to take up tobacco, not least because my late father also died of lung cancer. In passing, it is worth making the observation that our coalition partners and the Opposition would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, but not to purchase cigarettes. The age restriction for tobacco, of course, has risen from 16 in recent years.
I accept that tobacco smoking is subject to commensurate regulations and restrictions. No one should sensibly want to see children take up smoking or should encourage them to take up the habit. I believe that we should do all we can to discourage, to educate and ultimately to prevent those under the legal age from taking up smoking. However, I also believe passionately in the concept of freedom of choice. The decision of whether or not to smoke should remain that of an informed adult, without gratuitous interference from the state.
One should not forget that tobacco is already one of the most highly regulated products in the world. The introduction of plain packaging would almost certainly amount to a regulation too far, and the so-called “denormalisation” of tobacco is not a sufficiently valid policy decision to justify such action. Any decision by the coalition Government must be unequivocally evidence-based. To contemplate taking such a significant measure for a legal product, the evidence base must be rock solid and reliable, with a guarantee that it will have the outcome intended.
I must confess that I am very pleased that the Department did not place a bid in this year’s Queen’s Speech, and that the Government, with a very libertarian junior Minister as we know, have sensibly delayed making a decision until it is clear what impact plain packaging has in Australia, where a plain-packaging law has been introduced. In my view, it makes sense to see how that experiment works first, before following their lead.
Any decision must be categorically made on the basis not of who shouts loudest or which side of the debate is able to muster the largest number of automated e-mail responses. The enforced introduction of plain packaging would infringe fundamental legal rights that are routinely afforded to international business. It would erode some important British intellectual property and brand equity, and it would create a dangerous precedent for the future of commercial free speech in areas such as alcohol and, indeed, within the food industry.
There is so much more that I would like to say, Mr Hollobone. It has been an interesting debate. I accept that my contribution is on a different path from those of many other Members here, but it is a voice that perhaps needs to be heard in this debate, which we will no doubt have in the months and years to come.
The Government face a choice: to make policy on the basis of emotion—indeed, of emotional blackmail—or to make it on the basis of evidence. I welcome the recent statement by the Government that they will look at and assess the evidence, then take a decision on that basis. That is an eminently sensible way to approach making policy.
Other Members do themselves a disservice if they take a particular position on the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco, saying that those activities are somehow aligned with those of child killers, cancer pushers and drug dealers. That is the import of what is being said today about people who wish to defend an industry that employs 66,000 people in this country. If we put it out of business, it will not reduce the consumption or sale of cigarettes by one; they will simply be manufactured in other countries and imported here, and they will continue to be smoked here.
Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the statistics that have been given here today, and despite all the health warnings and pictures on cigarettes, 200,000 people are still recruited into the cigarette industry every year? It is evident that the packaging—the shape and colour, and what is on it—does not deter people from smoking.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I shall deal with the evidence on three issues. First, the Republic of Ireland has the tightest, harshest laws on public smoking. When it introduced those laws 10 years ago—it set the trend on this—smoking stood at 30% of the public. After 10 years of enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, today the number of people who smoke in the Republic of Ireland is 30%. There has not been one single change to consumption, yet we are told that this drive is all about reducing consumption. It does not actually work.
How do we address consumption? We do what Sir Tony Baldry says: educate young people. In Germany, they have done that and consumption has fallen to 16%. Why? Because they educated the very young and persuaded people that smoking was not the course of action they should take. They educated them away from cigarettes. They also do another thing: they enforce. In other words, an adult cannot go into a shop, buy fags and give them to a 16-year-old. They enforce against adults who do that. Unfortunately, many people in this country go into shops and purchase cigarettes, or purchase illicit trade cigarettes out of the back of someone’s car, and then give them to young people. We should enforce against that.
I also want to deal with the myth about illicit trade. Bob Blackman should know much better. To suggest that HMRC is on top of the illicit trade in this country is to put one’s head in the sand. Last year, HMRC gave evidence to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs about illicit trade, and tobacco was dealt with. HMRC is fighting a tsunami of counterfeit trade in this country.
In my country, 25% of all cigarettes smoked are illegal. In Scotland, the figure is about 27%. If we are pretending today that the authorities are on top of the issue, we are absolutely, totally and completely wrong. We have to recognise that counterfeiters are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of their job being made easier. They will be able to get a simpler package cover that is standardised across the whole UK and push it out across the UK, getting people to smoke brands that are counterfeit and illicitly brought into the country. Remember that the people doing that are not Sunday school teachers; they are serious organised criminals who are involved in serious criminal endeavours.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing this important debate and on his excellent speech. I hope that we do have a debate and a vote in the House on this issue. I also pay tribute to the work that has been done over many years by my hon. Friend Stephen Williams. He recently got a World Health Organisation medal for his work to try to control tobacco. That is very well deserved.
The tobacco industry clearly has a desperate fight on its hands to keep its profits. Over many years—many decades—it has resorted to a range of techniques. One story that used to be told was that if someone smokes, they are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. That is absolutely true, as has been said—but the main reason is that they are quite likely to die before they get Alzheimer’s disease. I am not sure that that is quite what was intended.
The question that we must ask when thinking about proposals to introduce plain packaging, which I completely and utterly support, is this: will it work? Study after study shows that with plain packaging, the packs will be less attractive to adults and to children and that that will reduce the number of people taking up smoking. Some 200,000 children take up smoking each year. We could make a real change. Smoking is presented as cool, but that is not the type of cool that we want to see. We can make a difference.
In Australia, there is already research on what the effects of plain packaging have been. It is very clear that plain packaging increases smokers’ urgency to quit and lowers the appeal of smoking. It is going the right way; it is having the right results. That is why I was so disappointed to see the Government’s decision to wait until we have a clearer view of the impact in Australia.
From a scientific perspective, it always makes sense to wait for better evidence. We could wait another year, five years, 10 years or 100 years and we will get more and more evidence, but in the meantime people will be taking up smoking and dying as a result. We simply do not have the luxury of waiting for ever to get the most perfect possible results. Australia has understood that and taken action, and many countries around the world, from Ireland to India, are following that lead. As the Australian Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, highlighted, the laws are “anti-cancer, not anti-trade”. That is where we should want to be.
The hon. Gentleman talks about how plain packaging makes smoking less attractive, but the evidence from Australia is actually that plain packaging makes those cigarettes less attractive than those that have a brand name on them, not that it makes smoking less attractive. It simply makes one packet less attractive than the other. There is no evidence that it reduces the number of people coming forward to smoke.
I think that we have seen different data sets from Australia. My understanding is very clear that there is a substantial reduction there.
We will continue to see the resistance; we will continue to hear the arguments that if tobacco is legal, it must be possible to sell it freely. We have already heard the summary from “The Oxford Medical Companion” that tobacco is the only legally available consumer product that kills people when used entirely as intended. That is something that we should rightly be concerned about. Although the tobacco giants will continue to fight their case, we have a duty and a responsibility to fight on behalf of the people who will continue their lives—who will continue their healthy lives.
The fact that MPs from across the political spectrum—this is shown by the vast majority of speeches here today—have come together to ask for a U-turn on the original U-turn is proof of the political will that exists to take on tobacco. We know that that is supported by the public outside the House. I hope that we will keep raising the issue and that we will have a chance to make the difference.
Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, said:
“Give me the boy at seven and I will give you the man.”
I think that the strapline for the tobacco advertising industry is, “Give me the child smoker at 12 and I will give you the early grave.”
The advertising industry is finely honed. It uses psychology, science, art, craft and design to get a message across. It is not just happenstance or chance; the packages that cigarettes come in are dedicated to capturing hearts and minds. I am holding one—this is what we are talking about here today. This is a “super-slim” cigarette. What 12-year-old girl would not like to be super slim? It is a fine, elegant-looking bullet—or cancer stick. See this other one I am holding up. Guess who it is aimed at—14-year-olds. These packages will be responsible for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths of UK citizens over the next few decades. It is the most pernicious form of advertising in the country.
“there is no evidence base that” plain packaging
“actually reduces the number of young children smoking.”—[Hansard, 16 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 945.]
He had sought to introduce the policy himself, but then dismissed it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right. Labour did many good things. We curtailed advertising. We introduced the ban on smoking in public places. But we did not do enough and we need to do more. When I spoke about this package at an anti-smoking do in Parliament, JTI—Japan Tobacco International—had a spy in the room and wrote to me afterwards, saying, “Mr Ruane, you’ve got it all wrong. These are called 14s because there are 14 cigarettes inside the packet.” It was a Miss Laura Oates who castigated me and she went on to criticise the Labour Government for not doing enough on proxy purchasing.
I agree: I think that we should take up Miss Laura Oates’s cry for more pressure on the tobacco industry and concentrate on that. This is just one step in the campaign to cut and then eliminate smoking in the UK. Thanks go to Laura Oates for suggesting other campaigns as well. I think that we should have a whole string of them over the next 10 years. It should be a long-term policy to—
No, I will not; I have given way once.
It should be a long-term policy to eradicate smoking in our country. The tobacco industry is very successful at capturing young hearts, minds and lungs, to such an extent that 567 children a day start smoking. A majority of those smokers will continue smoking until the day they die—early.
The industry has been forced to get new recruits because people are dropping off on the other end. Mature people, adults, older people are stopping smoking. They are also dying—150,000 people a year are dying, so the industry needs to get new recruits as early as possible; the earlier it gets them, the more profitable it is. If it can get 50 or 60 years of smoking out of a 12-year-old, that is much more profitable than getting an adult at the age of 18. It is an extra six years of profitability, built on the back of that child’s life—or death.
I know that we should not be party political, but the Government have back-pedalled on this issue and that of the unit pricing of alcohol. There is time for a rethink. There is a lot of co-operation and support in the Chamber and outside. We ought to work together to force this issue and force it quickly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I have managed to constrain the urge to intervene, in accordance with your exhortation to us this morning, so I will be reluctant to accept any interventions myself, on the basis, as you said, that we want to have as many speakers as we can.
I am, as most people in the room know, I suspect, on the side of my hon. Friend Mark Field and Ian Paisley in this matter. I take the view that plenty of measures are already in place to protect children from smoking. Let us face it: it is already illegal to sell cigarettes to children.
The principal point that I want to make to start with is that we ought to be taking more measures to enforce the laws that we have already. There is already a ban on advertising, a ban on the display of cigarettes in large supermarkets, which is shortly to be extended to all shops, and a ban on smoking in public places. We already have extensive education measures.
What really starts children smoking is peer pressure. We have seen that, as a result of all the measures in place already, the numbers of people smoking are falling. Government figures from the general lifestyle survey show a national fall in the number of smokers, from 39% in 1980 to 21% in 2011—19% in England and 24% in Scotland and Wales. I have never met anyone who, when I asked why they smoked, said, “I took up smoking because I was attracted by the colour or style of the packet and I wanted to have one in my pocket.”
It is all very well saying that, but the Minister said in a previous debate that the new packs were not going to be plain packaged at all, but were going to have lots of glamorous, glitzy holograms on them in different colours. [Interruption.] The Minister did not say “glamorous”, but she did mention different colours and holograms. The point is that I never met anyone who said that it was the packet that made them want to take up smoking.
I put a question to the Minister in June in which I referenced the fact that, when a patient is ill and visits their GP, they do as the doctor orders. One hundred thousand people will die of lung cancer this year and doctors support the campaign for plain packaging, so the question I put to the Government today is, when will they do as the doctor orders and bring in plain packaging for tobacco?
Numerous individuals, as well as groups such as Action Cancer and Cancer Research UK have contacted me. Schoolteachers have asked me to support the introduction of plain packaging in the hope that some of the cool factor will be lost and children will not take up the habit. Government research shows some 567 children start smoking every day. Half of those go on to become regular smokers, who will die as a result of their habit, despite anti-smoking advertising campaigns, attempts to educate children at school about the dangers and the fact that it is now illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18 in Northern Ireland.
After much research, Cancer Research backs standardised plain packs due to the evidence that such packaging will help to save lives as part of a comprehensive tobacco strategy. No one here is claiming that it is the answer and will stop people smoking, but it can be and must be part of a campaign to save lives. Eight in 10 smokers start smoking by the age of 19 and 207,000 11 to 15-year-olds become smokers each year.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that marketing and advertising aimed at reaching young people on their birthday when they can buy and smoke legally for the first time will also have an effect on those who are only 13 or 14. From a marketing perspective, they are in the same age bracket.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is clear that cigarette companies target young people and we need to address that. Cancer Research points to substantial evidence that shows advertising and promotion drawing young people into smoking and that packaging is an important part of tobacco promotion.
Standard packs would build on the success of the advertising ban. Eighty five per cent. of people back Government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking and 63% of people support standard packs, with only 16% opposed. One hundred and ninety health organisations support standard packs, including the royal medical colleges and health charities, as well as the World Health Organisation.
I was not aware that we waited for countries, such as Australia, to implement initiatives before we would do so in the UK. It was my impression that we sought to lead the field in safety. Even if we are waiting on smoke signals, or hopefully a lack of smoke signals—forgive the pun—from Australia, research from Cancer Research that is making its way back from Australia shows early indications not only that the policy is making cigarettes appear less appealing, but that there is no evidence of problems for retailers.
I spoke to my colleague, Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots, about the issue and he said that he fully supports the concept of plain packaging. He further told me that it was essential that there is a UK-wide scheme to tackle smoking.
I cannot. I urge the Government not to put off the measure by waiting to get the all clear from Australia, when too many people are not getting the all clear from lung cancer and other diseases. Take the steps necessary. They might prevent some of the 567 children who may start smoking today, every day and every week, from doing so.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on securing the debate. He is my honourable friend in a different context, as an officer in the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, which I have chaired for the past three years.
We have two debates in Parliament that will attract public attention today—this one and the debate on lobbyists this afternoon. I think that we could move seamlessly from one to the other, because the fact that the Government have stalled on this important public health measure is proof positive of the effectiveness of the lobbying industry. The industry must see it as a triumph that it has caused the Government to stop and think again.
Over the past 18 months or so there has been frantic and frenetic lobbying by the tobacco companies to stop the Government introducing legislation to standardise the packaging of cigarettes. That is because it is the last remaining marketing ploy that the tobacco companies have. They have used the same arguments they made about the ban on smoking in public places and the display ban: that it will destroy small shops, and lead to a huge increase in smuggling and criminal activity. Those arguments were wrong then and they are wrong now.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken, so I will follow the Chair’s mandate and not give way.
Other people are lobbying against the policy, such as Unite the Union. I took part in a debate during the recess on BBC Radio Bristol with a shop steward from the tobacco packaging factory in east Bristol. He said that if legislation went ahead that factory would lose hundreds of jobs. I say to Ian Paisley that I see no problem at all with being a constituency MP—Imperial Tobacco, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, is based in Bristol—and arguing against the tobacco trade, because tobacco kills people in my city and kills people from poorer communities. It is a public health tragedy that smoking now disproportionately affects poorer people in society. The middle classes have largely followed all the health warnings and given up smoking.
I have no problem with that, but I must ask the hon. Gentleman whether he takes the same approach to the alcohol trade. I accept that cigarettes kill, but that is not the argument. The argument is about illicit trade and the impact on jobs and employment. That is where the argument is and where we need to look. We need to get the evidence that shows that plain packaging will do what it says on the tin: stop people from smoking; it will not.
There is a big difference between alcohol and tobacco: alcohol consumed in moderation will not kill someone; smoking tobacco, whatever the strength, over a long period, will shorten your life. That is a fundamental difference.
As hon. Members have said, tobacco is already one of the most regulated trades. So why regulate further? Because regulation has been proven to work. Over the past 50 years, with restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and points of display, health warnings and NHS cessation programmes, we have seen the rate of smoking drop from more than half of adult males in the late 1960s, when I was born, to about one-fifth now. We know that state intervention works, but tobacco companies need a new generation of susceptible young minds to take up the addiction.
I am deeply disappointed with my Government for stalling. I know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place and I feel for her on this occasion. The Government have not acted, so there is an opportunity for Parliament. I remember Patricia Hewitt in the previous Parliament defending, almost until the last minute, the partial ban on smoking in public places. That Parliament imposed a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places. I hope that this House or the House of Lords will act in the same way in this Parliament.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As an MP for Salford, I want to speak because smoking, smoking-related deaths and lung cancer rates are all too high there. One in four of the population in Salford smoke, which is a much higher rate than the average of one in five people in England as a whole. Consequently, we have much higher rates of smoking-related death and a higher incidence of lung cancer, with 175 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year. The worst statistic is perhaps the Cancer Research UK estimate that around 1,000 children in Salford start smoking each year; that addiction will kill one in two of them, if they become long-term smokers.
Early evidence from Australia on the introduction of plain packaging suggests that branded cigarette boxes can influence the perception of smoking among young people and that plain packaging might help the fight against starting smoking, which is what is important to me. In a study there, 70% of those interviewed who smoked from plain packets said that they thought that the cigarettes were “less satisfying”, and they rated quitting as a higher priority than those who continued to smoke from a branded pack. In an important separate online study, 87% of the children interviewed rated plain packets as “uncool” and said they would not want to be seen with them.
There is, therefore, weight behind the argument that cigarette packaging is the last legal form of tobacco advertising and that it has an influence on young people’s perception of smoking. That is why it is really important that we take action to introduce plain packs.
In the previous Parliament, we introduced a ban on smoking in public places and it made a difference. I visited Copenhagen earlier this year, and found myself in public places where people were lighting up. It is easy to forget how unpleasant it is to be in a public place where people are smoking and to come home with clothes and hair stinking of smoke, but worse is the effect of second-hand smoke on health. Since 2002, tobacco advertising has been banned from TV, billboards and sports such as Formula 1; the next step is to tackle the advertising on the packaging.
In 1950, 80% of men and 40% of women smoked. Cigarette advertising at that time used images of doctors and celebrities to promote the different brands. One brand even used images of Santa Claus smoking.
I mentioned two packs earlier. One I was not able to get hold of for today, despite my trying. It is a lovely 1950s retro pack, which opens up to show nice pink cigarettes inside—very appealing to a 12-year-old. What does my hon. Friend think about that kind of retro advertising by the tobacco industry?
It just shows that all these methods are being used to attract smokers—particularly, and sadly, young smokers. To think that we once used Santa
Claus to claim that a brand was easy on the throat. We have heard of the damaging impacts and the dreadful way in which people die.
I congratulate the stop smoking services in Salford, particularly for their programme that focuses on reducing smoking in families with children under 16. Research has shown that, if children do not see their parents smoking, they are less likely to start smoking themselves. Many of our programmes in Salford are targeted at families. I think it is true that most smokers do not want their children to start smoking.
All the advertising is pernicious. It focuses on young people, and on young women who want to remain slim and, for heaven’s sake, in the past, it used Santa Claus and doctors. It is time we moved on to take the next important step to close down cigarette advertising by introducing plain packs. It is time to prevent children and young people from starting smoking—I do not want to continue to see 1,000 children a year in Salford starting to smoke—and to reduce the large numbers of people affected by smoking-related illness and early death, in my authority and across the country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman not only on an excellent speech—which I fully support—but on his work on the all-party group on smoking and health, of which I am a member.
My motivation in supporting the debate today comes entirely from wanting to ensure that we protect children and save lives. I echo everyone who has said, “Let’s do as much as we can to prevent young people from starting to smoke,” because the later they start the less likely they will become addicted and the fewer lives we will see debilitated. It is not just about saving lives; it is about the quality of life that many will suffer. How many people who have taken up smoking desperately want to stop? The best way to stop smoking is not to start in the first place.
I absolutely do, and I also share the view that young people are attracted to designer brands. They are attracted not just to the product but to the packaging. I have two young sons—one is 17 and one is 20—and I was amazed to discover that not only do young people want to buy designer clothing but there is a trade on eBay for the tags and packaging. People collect the labels.
We have known for a long time that young people are attracted to labels. In 1995 a survey of youth in America told us that young people associated the following words with designer packaging: popular, cool and good-looking. With cigarettes in plain packaging, they associated the words boring, geeky and cheap. In 2012, another survey found that young people felt that if they smoked stylish packs they would be “better and more popular”. The evidence is there. We do not need to delay.
It is a tragedy that each year 200,000 people start to smoke when we could take action. I do not believe that the fact there have already been successful measures is an argument for not taking further action—quite the opposite. According to one statistic I have seen, the display ban on large shops has contributed towards 100,000 fewer young people taking up smoking each year. If that is correct, let us build on the success. Let us do more, and see more and more young people discouraged from taking up smoking.
If I saw a young child drowning in a canal or about to run in front of a car, I would do all that I could to stop them and to save that life. Is that not what we are in a position to do in this House? The public do not want to see young people’s lives and futures damaged by smoking. More than 190 health organisations support standardised packaging. People in this House support it. Let us have a debate and a vote, and take action to protect the health and lives of future generations.
I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing the debate at this early stage, so that we can put the case for Parliament making the decision and getting the solution, getting on with it in a way that the Government have been reluctant to do.
I want to pick up on the phraseology: standardised packaging versus plain packaging. Standardised packaging is what we are talking about. It is clear, and enables public health messages to be delivered powerfully. The way in which the packages are designed has a clear psychological impact in reducing the likelihood of people taking up smoking and increasing the likelihood of their quitting. It is important that we talk about standardised packaging, because it really makes a difference.
The case has been well made that clever packaging seduces children into smoking, but how will standardised packaging impact on the rational adult person’s choice to smoke?
I would use the phrase “insidious packaging”. That is what we are talking about. We have seen today examples of the sort of packaging that has been used, and in the evidence submitted as part of the preparations for the debate we have seen how those who lead tobacco companies talk about the value they place on packaging as a tool to solicit more custom and get more people to take up smoking in the first place. Big tobacco needs to recruit more smokers because it has to replace those who quit and, more chillingly, those who die as a consequence of taking up smoking. That is why we must have a bias towards action to protect the health of children and young people from the harm that smoking does.
In its systematic review of evidence, published as part of its consultation, the Department of Health gathered absolutely clear and strong evidence of the impact of standardised packaging on reducing smoking. The evidence is there; what is lacking is the political will. The Minister has that will, but the Government as yet do not. Parliament should take a leaf out of the book of the previous Parliament, when it came to smoking in enclosed public places. It was not the then Government who led on that; they hid behind many of the same arguments that are being used now. Yet again, it took the leadership of the Health Committee—having an inquiry, producing a report and publishing the evidence—to make the case for the ban, and the Government being prepared to allow a free vote.
We should have a debate and a free vote in this House to give effect to the policy change, because it will save lives. It is no longer satisfactory or acceptable to be kicking this can down the road. We should not have been doing that with the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and we should not be doing it now with standardised packaging.
I hope that people will be moved by this debate and that the Minister can move her colleagues. I know that both she and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb, are committed to this change, which is an essential public health goal. As one speaker said, controlling tobacco and saving lives requires us over time systematically to improve and strengthen regulation. This is another step on the journey of changing public attitudes and saving lives.
I thank Bob Blackman for making possible this important debate at this stage in the Parliament. I also thank you, Mr Hollobone, for your exemplary chairing, which has allowed everyone who wanted to speak to do so.
In my brief remarks, I want to deal with the bogus point that doing anything about cigarette packaging necessarily affects how we treat alcohol and fatty foods, and to talk about the importance of protecting children and local leadership. I first want to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith),for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on their excellent speeches, as well as my colleague, my hon. Friend Chris Ruane, for his helpful visual aids, which enabled us all to focus on what the debate is about in practice. I found the contribution from Sir Tony Baldry quite moving. For me, the image of a child on his father’s ward with all those men dying from lung cancer, a type of cancer in which people drown, was particularly vivid and moving.
First and foremost, I will deal with the bogus idea that we can compare the packaging of cigarettes with that of sweet or fatty foods, alcohol and so on. If people consume alcohol and packaged sugary or fatty goods in the quantities indicated on the packaging—all packaged goods now have information about calories and what proportion of people’s diets should be made up of particular food groups, and all alcohol packaging tells people the advisable level of consumption—the effect on health is marginal. If they consume tobacco in the way manufacturers indicate, half of lifelong smokers will die—no ifs, no buts. Tobacco is the only legal substance for which, if consumed as indicated, half of consumers will die. In relation to packaging, that makes tobacco a wholly different case from alcohol and sugary and fatty foods. In my view, it is a dishonest argument to try to make that comparison.
I am afraid that I cannot.
We know that half of lifetime smokers will die from smoking, that it remains the largest preventable cause of cancer, that it causes one in four deaths from cancer and eight in 10 deaths from lung cancer, and that smoking is the biggest cause of health inequality. That is what makes tobacco packaging different and makes the measures so important.
On children, the key to the debate is not whether a change in packaging would make established smokers alter their habits, but the attraction that packaging holds for children. The question is one of child protection: although adults can make their decision about smoking, society has a responsibility, which some speakers have ignored, to protect children. Even Members who do not accept that must agree that we have a responsibility to bear down on the millions of pounds a year that it costs the NHS to deal with the consequences of smoking.
We have seen important local leadership on smoking. A lot can be done locally, which is why it is so important to move public health to local authorities. I want to name the leader of Newcastle city council, Nick Forbes, and Fresh North East for their innovatory work.
This is one of those issues on which what is done upstream—Government measures—has the most impact. In the lifetimes of everyone in the Chamber, levels of smoking have gone down, and attitudes to smoking have changed. When I was a child, people smoked on the television, in films, in meetings and in offices, none of which is now acceptable. That shows what we can do in public health with a mix of moral suasion and legislation, but there is more to be done, and I believe that the packaging measure is the last brick in the wall.
It is important to make the point that we are discussing UK packaging. As part of my role as shadow public health Minister, I have been to Europe—to Brussels and so on—to talk about the issue. In Brussels, people are clear that one reason why the tobacco industry is so exercised about packaging is not profits in the UK, but the example that UK legislation would set to the rest of the world, including the huge markets in China and Africa. What is at stake is not a marginal decrease in profit here; it is the big problem of profits forgone in the huge markets elsewhere. That is why it is so important for us in Parliament to set the right example—not just for the health of British people or because of the costs to the health service, but for the rest of the world.
In closing, I congratulate such organisations as Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health that have been ceaseless in bringing the facts before the public and MPs. We know that the issues are difficult and that the Government face the money and power of big tobacco. To be candid, that is why my Government in the end allowed a free vote. If this debate can get one important thing rolling, it should be pressure on the Government at the highest level to allow Parliament to discuss the question: let us debate and decide. The health of Britain’s children and the general population depends on it and the spiralling cost of the NHS depends on it, as does the health of people all over the world, to whom we can set an example with exemplary legislation on cigarette packaging.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I echo the remarks of many speakers by congratulating my hon. Friend Bob Blackman—a long-standing friend, if I may say so—on securing the debate and on his excellent speech. As he knows, I have been called many things, but I have never been called “very libertarian”, and I am still in a state of shock at that description.
I make it clear that I am no great fan or supporter of the nanny state. I do not have a particular problem with standardised packaging, because that does not relate to the nanny state. As we have heard in the many excellent speeches from Members of all parties, the issue is the protection of children, not preventing anybody from smoking or going out to buy cigarettes. It is about protecting young people from the attraction of taking up smoking.
It is important that I declare my interest. My father, a lifelong smoker, died at the age of 56 from lung cancer. I do not think that there was any doubt that that cancer was caused by his lifelong addition to tobacco—to smoking. I say with considerable shame, if I may put it that way, that until just over five years ago, I, too, was a smoker; both my brothers continue to smoke. I am not for one moment saying that if people are not or have not been smokers, they cannot engage in the debate, because that would obviously be complete nonsense, but they have to have been a smoker to understand the perverse psychology of smoking.
We know that 8 million people in this country continue to smoke and that the overwhelming majority of them want to stop. It is an admission of some weakness within us, which I think is the power of nicotine. It is often said that nicotine is more addictive even than heroin. Although I have never directly experienced heroin, when I was a criminal barrister I had enough clients to know how powerful heroin and cocaine are. Goodness me, even they would say that nicotine is a dreadful substance in its addiction. That accounts for why so many smokers, like me, found it so difficult to give up.
I want to make it clear that like so many smokers, I took up smoking before the age of 18. I accept that I sound very weak when I say—this is one of those moments where one almost wants to confess—that the power of the packet had an effect on this 17-year-old from Worksop who was working in a toy shop, which, bizarrely, sold cigarettes in those days. Younger people listening to this debate will be amazed to hear that a toy shop could sell cigarettes, but those were the days.
I have never forgotten the first time that I bought a packet of cigarettes. I deliberately chose a packet of St Moritz because they were green, gorgeous and a symbol of glamour. Do hon. Members remember the madness of those advertisements that talked of the cool fresh mountain air of menthol cigarettes? Those were the days that some of us remember because of our age. I distinctly remember the power of that package. It was the opening of the cellophane and the gold and the silver that was so powerfully important to many people who, as youngsters, took up smoking. I say that to my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall who says that he has never met anyone so drawn; well, he has now, because I am that person, and I am not alone by any means.
There is little doubt that if alcohol were synthesised for the first time today, or if we discovered sugar for the first time, it would be banned. The Minister has made the case about nicotine. Ideally, does she want the product banned? She talked about protecting young people. What age is she talking about? In America, for example, alcohol is banned for anyone under the age of 21. Is that the age she is considering, especially as we could outlaw both tobacco and alcohol at university when people are at an impressionable age?
My hon. Friend is most naughty. He asks me in a short period of time, when I have other matters to address, to answer about three or four questions all at once, most of which are completely irrelevant. We cannot say that there is a correlation between alcohol and tobacco; of course there is not. One can enjoy a glass of wine on an occasional basis. Indeed there is evidence that it can help certain people with their health. I am talking about the gentle consumption of alcohol or sugar. Indeed there is nothing wrong with eating sweets for goodness sake or even chips and other fatty substances. It is all a question of how much one eats; it should be part of a sensible and well-balanced diet. There is nothing in support of cigarettes or tobacco. It is about as barmy as saying, “If you want to help yourself after a stressful day, have a fag.” Cigarettes—tobacco—kill people and harm people’s health. Get it!
The Minister is making a tremendous case—a better one than most of us—for standard packaging. Will she therefore persuade the Health Secretary that he does not have to wait for Back Benchers or others to take the matter to the Backbench Business Committee to get a vote on the Floor of the House of Commons? He can actually crack on now with tremendous support from across the House.
I suppose that I am sort of grateful for that intervention. It was not the most helpful, but it was a fair one and it is a good point that needs addressing. I have no difficulty in waiting for the evidence to emerge from Australia. It is on that point that I agree with Ian Paisley. However, it is the only point on which we agree on this matter. It is important that we consider the evidence. Of course we know that the Irish Government have also said that they want to introduce this measure. Again, we will wait and see. It is no simple matter to introduce standardised packaging. There will be many challenges that the Irish will face in their attempts. It is right and fair that we wait to see all of that as it develops.
May I make some progress, because it is really important that I make the matter clear? The coalition Government have made no final decision. As I have said, we wait to see the evidence as it emerges from both Ireland and Australia. It is important to say that standardised packaging is no silver bullet. There is no simple solution to the problem of persuading both the remaining 20% of the population to give up smoking and our youngsters not to smoke.
I want to deal if I may with some of the excellent points that have been made. I, like many other Members, have talked about the power of the package. Chris Ruane helpfully brought in some packets. He mentioned the cigarettes that are deliberately targeted at young women. My hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry asks why children, in the face of the overwhelming evidence and the health messages, take up smoking. He is right to say that we need to do more research. We know many things.
We know, for instance, the power of parents. If a child is brought up by parents who smoke, they are likely to smoke because they will see it as the norm. One of the great benefits of the legislation that was introduced by the previous Administration—I pay full credit to them for introducing that ban on smoking in open places—was that it made smoking less socially acceptable. Effectively, it turned many of us into modern-day lepers. If we wanted to smoke, we were reduced to standing outside, ostracised from our workmates, and that was a powerful reason why so many of us gave up smoking. Many of us remember with shame, as I do, sitting in restaurants thinking that we had some God-given right to smoke next to people who rightly found it deeply offensive, and who were trying to enjoy their meals. It is astonishing to look back at films and television programmes of only a few years ago to see how acceptable smoking was and how the previous Parliament changed that.
I absolutely agree with all those who are trying to nail the falsehood in two important parts of this argument about standardised packaging. The first is whether it is plain. I concede that one of the great failings of this debate is to explain what we mean by “standardised”. That goes back to the point that was inaccurately made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North. I never said that packaging would be glamorous or glitzy, but that, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East also tried to say, under the regulation and legislation holograms can be put on standardised packaging—not to be attractive but as part of the argument against the claim that anybody will be able to counterfeit it.
Far from being a counterfeiter’s charter and dream, standardised packaging is a counterfeiter’s nightmare. I wish that I had with me some of the packets that have been produced by Australia. If we had them, Members would see that they are far from plain. On the contrary, they have colour in them, but they have the standardisation, which takes away this incredibly powerful marketing tool and the attraction for young people.
On the point about waiting for the evidence, it is not 20% of people who smoke in Salford but 25%, and much more in some areas, and it is 1,000 children. As we wait, 1,000 children every year will start smoking in Salford. Why are we waiting?
I think I have explained why we have waited. My understanding of the statistics is that it is 20%, but it differs in different parts of the country. I also want to make the point that the Government have not stepped away from taking action against the harmful effects of tobacco. We have a tobacco control plan for England that sets out our national ambitions and our comprehensive evidence-based strategy of national and local actions to achieve them, including high-profile marketing campaigns. Our Stoptober campaign, which was hugely successful last year and which we will be running again this year, provided help and assistance to smokers, the majority of whom want to quit.
I also want to pay tribute to local authorities, which now have responsibility for public health. I have met members and representatives from councils in the north-east who are doing some terrific work persuading people to stop smoking or not to take it up, and that shows good local action.
As ever, the clock is against me, but I hope that I have made the Government’s position absolutely clear. I congratulate again everybody who has spoken in this debate. My own views are clear, but it is right to wait to see the evidence. I assure Members that the wise words from so many different parties today will be taken back to the Government and will be listened to. It is to be hoped that in due time, standardised packaging will be introduced.