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Smoking (Young People)

Volume 494: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2009

Government action has helped reduce smoking among 11 to 18-year-olds from 18 per cent. in 1998 to 11 per cent. in 2007. The Health Bill goes further still by prohibiting tobacco promotion through display and preventing under-age sales from vending machines. I look forward to publishing a new tobacco control strategy this year, setting out additional action.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Although the number of young people in Stockport who smoke has significantly decreased, there are still twice as many young smokers in those areas where people have a lower life expectancy than in those areas where people have a higher life expectancy. I recently met health workers and Brinnington residents who are piloting a Lose the Fags scheme, where local people who have stopped smoking are the role models to encourage others to quit. Does my hon. Friend agree that more encouragement needs to be given to such innovative schemes if we are to ensure that inequalities in life expectancy are tackled in my constituency and elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for quitting smoking. I am delighted to hear of the success of the scheme, and I congratulate her constituents on taking this action. We want to support a culture of quitting. That is why we are spending an additional £2.5 million this year on 25 local authorities in circumstances precisely such as those she describes—those areas with high smoking rates where local programmes are most needed. That is also why the Government are seeking to take even further action through provisions in the Health Bill.

There is nothing to suggest that the ban on tobacco displays will reduce the number of young people taking up smoking; that ban is merely another triumph for the nanny state and for this Government, who are obsessed with headline-grabbing but pointless initiatives. Will the Minister reconsider this decision, given the negative impact that it will have on small shops, which are already struggling through the recession?

The simple answer is no, and the reason why is that removing tobacco displays is not going to close shops, no matter how much the hon. Gentleman and others in the House spread myths; I have just written to Members of Parliament to outline the reality. The other truth—I look forward to discussing this issue in the Health Bill Committee this afternoon —is that there is a great deal of evidence that tobacco displays not only encourage young people to take up smoking, but discourage people from quitting.

If the display of tobacco products encourages young people to take up smoking, what influence do the crowds of people whom we see on the streets outside pubs and clubs have on young people? Would it not be better for these smokers to be hidden away—inside the building in a controlled environment, rather than on the streets, where children can see them?

My hon. Friend is, as always, very inventive in making his point. As I said, we are looking ahead to a new tobacco control strategy. We have just finished the consultation and 100,000 responses were received. I look forward to seeing what further measures we may take.