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Tobacco Products (Standardised Packaging)

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2013

1. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products. (900583)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have decided to wait before making a decision on standardised packaging, but the policy remains under active consideration. As he can imagine, I have spent much of the past two weeks, as I get to know my brief, looking at that carefully.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. Stirling university’s systematic review of plain packaging concluded that it made cigarettes less attractive and health warnings more effective. Will she give me a straight answer: has she read the report, and if not, why not?

The straight answer is that I have not read the whole report, but I have read the summary, and it reaches some interesting conclusions. It is one of a number of interesting new pieces of information and evidence coming forward to support decision making in this policy area, and from work going on in countries right around the world as well as Australia.

Three hundred thousand young people a year start smoking, and the tobacco industry’s last vestige of advertising is packaging. Will my hon. Friend, in her new role, look at the proposal very seriously so that we can stop young people starting this terrible habit?

Stopping children and young people smoking is a priority for us all; all Members care deeply about the health of their constituents. I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at that very seriously and assessing all the new information available, not just from this country but from around the world.

The vast weight of not only expert opinion but of public opinion says that standardised packaging cuts the risk of people taking up smoking. When will the Government act on that and ignore what is coming from the vested interests—the lobbyists and the big tobacco companies—as an excuse for doing nothing?

I can only repeat what I have said: I am a new Minister and I am looking at this very carefully. There are interesting new pieces of information coming through all the time to assist us in making public policy in this area. It is under very active consideration.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. Will she, when considering the evidence, look at the fact that the tobacco industry, in its marketing and packaging strategies, is aiming at certain markets, particularly children and young people, whom they want to start smoking? Given her desire to ensure that children do not take up the practice, surely she should act on the evidence by ending the existing packaging arrangements and having standardised packaging so that we can deal with this problem.

At the risk of repeating myself, all I can say to my right hon. Friend is that I am looking at that very carefully. He is right that we all want to stop children and young people smoking. There is a mass of evidence out there, and we are gaining new evidence and information all the time to help us make decisions. I will continue to look at it as one of the absolute priorities within my brief.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. We knew that her predecessor supported standardised cigarette packaging: Labour will table amendments to the Children and Families Bill in the other place and in this place to make that a reality. I have listened to contributions from Members on the Government Benches supporting the policy. Will the Minister tell us today whether she supports standardised packaging?

We are very aware of the discussions that have been going on in the other place and the amendments that have come forward, in which we have taken considerable interest. At this stage, we want to look at all the available evidence, because new information is coming through, before coming to a view. I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady to her new post.