With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the publication of Sir Cyril Chantler’s report on the standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Smoking kills nearly 80,000 people each year in England alone. One out of two long-term smokers will die of a smoking-related disease and our cancer outcomes stubbornly lag behind those of much of Europe. Quite apart from the enormous pressure that this creates for the NHS, it is a cruel waste of human potential. Yet we know that the vast majority of smokers want to quit, and we also know that, tragically, two thirds of smokers become addicted before they are 18. As a nation, therefore, we should consider every effective measure we can to stop children taking up smoking in the first place.
That is why, in November last year, I asked Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review of whether the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco is likely to have an effect on public health, in particular in relation to children. Sir Cyril has presented his report to me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and yesterday we had the benefit of a personal briefing from Sir Cyril, in which he highlighted the key conclusions of his review. Having reviewed Sir Cyril’s findings, I was keen to share this important report with the House without delay, as I recognise the significant interest shown by many Members. I will of course place copies in the Libraries of both Houses.
The evidence has been examined, the arguments for and against have been thoroughly explored and their merit assessed by Sir Cyril, who visited Australia in the course of the review. I asked in particular that the report focus on the potential of standardised packaging to have an impact on the health of children. It is clear that smoking is a disease of adolescence and we know that across the UK, more than 200,000 children aged between 11 and 15 start smoking every year: in other words, about 600 children start smoking in the UK every day. Many of those children will grow up with a nicotine addiction that they will find extremely difficult to break, and that is a tragedy for those young people, their families and the public health of our nation. Sir Cyril points out that if this rate of smoking by children were reduced by even 2%, it would mean that 4,000 fewer children took up smoking each year.
Sir Cyril’s report makes the compelling case that if standardised packaging were introduced, it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health, and that the health benefits would include benefits for children. The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has read Sir Cyril’s report. She sent me a letter with her initial views in which she said:
“the Chantler review only reinforces my beliefs of the public health gains to be achieved from standardised packaging”.
I have placed copies of Dame Sally’s letter in the Libraries of both Houses.
Importantly, the report highlights that any such policy must be seen in the round, as part of a comprehensive policy of tobacco control measures, and that is exactly how I see the potential of standardised packaging working in this country. In the light of the report and the responses to the previous consultation in 2012, I am minded to proceed with introducing regulations to provide for standardised packaging. However, to ensure that that decision is properly and fully informed, I intend to publish draft regulations, so that what is intended is crystal clear, alongside a final, short consultation in which I will ask in particular for views on anything new that has arisen since the last full public consultation and that is relevant to a final decision on the policy. I will announce details of the content and timing shortly, but I invite those with an interest to start considering any responses they might wish to make now. The House will understand that I want to proceed as swiftly as possible. Parliament gave us the regulation-making powers in the Children and Families Act 2014.
I pay tribute to Sir Cyril and his team for the excellent job they have done in preparing such a thorough analysis of the available evidence on the standardised packaging of tobacco products. I believe that the report will be widely acknowledged for its forensic approach and authoritative conclusions. We want our nation’s children to grow up happy and healthy, and free from the heavy burden of disease that tobacco brings. I commend the statement and Sir Cyril’s report to the House.
I thank the Minister for an hour’s advance notice of her statement. May I take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to Sir Cyril Chantler and his team for their excellent review? I welcomed some of what the Minister said, but I want to probe her on several issues.
We know that the cost to the NHS of treating diseases caused by smoking is approximately £2.7 billion a year. One in two long-term smokers die prematurely due to smoking-related diseases, and two thirds of adult smokers took up smoking as children. As Sir Cyril says, if we can reduce that figure by even 2%, 4,000 fewer children will take up smoking each year. For that reason, I strongly welcome the fact that Sir Cyril’s review confirms what public health experts have been arguing for some time: standardised packaging makes cigarettes less attractive to young people and could help to save lives.
Sir Cyril’s remit was to consider whether standardised packaging would lead to a decrease in tobacco consumption. Does not the Minister accept that his conclusion is clear that
“standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking”
and could lead to an “important reduction” of uptake and prevalence, and have a “positive impact” on public health? Of course, that is something that all the previous evidence reviews have already shown. Indeed, Sir Cyril says:
“my overall findings are not dissimilar to those of previous reviews.”
Did not the Government’s own systematic review in 2012, which Sir Cyril describes as “extensive” and “authoritative”, conclude that standardised packaging is less appealing than branded packaging, makes health warnings more prominent and refutes the utter falsehood that some brands are healthier than others? All the royal colleges and health experts are united on this and the majority of responses to the Government’s consultation favoured such an approach, so does the Minister finally accept that there is an overwhelming body of evidence in favour of standardised packaging and that there can be no excuse for further delay?
You will know, Mr Speaker, that Labour has long been calling for the immediate introduction of standardised packaging. For every step that we took in government, the tobacco industry adopted a new approach. After we banned advertising, tobacco manufacturers developed increasingly sophisticated marketing devices for their packaging. In the words of Simon Clark of the tobacco-funded lobby group FOREST and the “Hands Off Our Packs!” campaign:
“It’s like showing them a picture of a Lamborghini and a beaten up Ford Escort and saying, ‘Which one do you prefer?’”
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was Health Secretary, he was clear that the next front in the fight against tobacco should be packaging. The question is why have we had to wait so long? More than 70,000 children will have taken up smoking since the Minister announced the review, and today she has announced yet another consultation. The Government have already had a consultation that reported less than a year ago. What does the hon. Lady expect to change? Let me remind her of the words of the Health Minister in the other place, Earl Howe, who said:
“we will definitely introduce the regulations should the case be made and should we be persuaded of the case that Sir Cyril presents. I hope that I have been clear about that.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 1251.]
Why is the Minister now kicking the matter into the long grass? How many more children will take up smoking before this Government make a decision? Does the Minister not accept that it was the clear will of both Houses of Parliament to proceed with standardised packaging, and is this not yet another example of how her Government are caving in to vested interests and standing up for the wrong people?
The hon. Lady’s response serves to illustrate the difference between opposition and government. I agree that Sir Cyril has produced a compelling report; I recommended it to the House and urged everybody to take the opportunity to read it. He has made a compelling case on the public health evidence, but to make robust policy in this area it is essential that we follow a careful process. That means we have to look at everything in the round, and we have to give everybody who has a stake in the decision an opportunity to make their case. That is what we will proceed to do. I have drawn the House’s attention in the past to the fact that the Australian Government are still engaged in litigation in this area. We need to proceed in a sensible way, but I could not have given the House a clearer indication of the fact that we are moving at the pace dictated by a sensible and robust policy approach. That is the requirement for making good policy.
I am glad the hon. Lady drew attention to Sir Cyril’s review of the evidence from the Stirling review. He did more than just look at the Stirling review; he commissioned independent academic review of its methodology and concluded that it was robust. That is part of his review. As I said, I urge Members to look at that.
Members will have heard the hon. Lady’s response. I can only say to her that at every stage we have proceeded in a sensible, measured but clear way. We took the regulation-making powers in the Children and Families Act 2014, for which there was a large parliamentary majority. We will publish draft regulations alongside the final short consultation to look at the wider issues, and we will then move as swiftly as possible to a final decision based on all those elements. That gives the House a clear sense of our direction of travel. I want to make sure that, whatever decision the Government finally take, it is robust and one that everyone can have confidence in.
It is most unfortunate that this statement has been made today, when so few Members who take an interest in these matters are present. The logic of my hon. Friend’s argument is that we should ban tobacco altogether if it does so much damage to our people. I do not believe this is a Conservative measure. It is an example of the nanny state. I see the Secretary of State whispering into my hon. Friend’s ear—I hope he is whispering some sound advice to her. At present 13% of packs sold are illicit, denying the Treasury £3 billion. If the Australian experience is anything to go by, that number is likely to rocket. What does the Minister say to that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Taking every possible effective measure to stop children smoking is the mark of a sensible state, not a nanny state. I do not think any Member of the House would want any extra child to take up smoking, so every Government should look clearly at any effective policy that can serve to advance the achievement of our ends in that regard. Sir Cyril devotes a significant chapter in his report to illicit tobacco products, and I urge my hon. Friend to read it. Of the arguments in that area, Sir Cyril says, “I am not convinced”.
The House listened with care to the Minister’s statement, and the backlash from her own Back-Benchers was predictable. The medical profession and doughty campaigners such as Action on Smoking and Health will be very glad that we are making progress on this issue. Can she confirm that she will bring forward the regulations before Christmas, so that standardised packaging is a reality before the general election?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s response. I know that she, as a former shadow Public Health Minister, takes a great interest in this area. I want to publish the draft regulations this month, alongside the short final consultation. The timetable that the Government are contemplating once a final decision is made should allow us to introduce the measure during this Parliament.
I support my hon. Friend’s measures to reduce the number of young people smoking, but she will not be surprised to hear that I do not support this measure. Only 5% of under-15s smoke, which is the lowest level for a generation. The Government’s anti-smoking measures that are already in place are clearly working. There are smoking cessation classes and posters in the streets and in every publication we pick up; there are television adverts warning people constantly about the health risks of smoking. Nobody in this country smokes in ignorance. The people who smoke make a deliberate choice to do so—they deliberately ignore all the warnings that are made available to them. We also must not forget parental responsibility in this, because parents are responsible for their children’s habits and for how much money they have to spend unsupervised—
I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for measures that can be effective in preventing children taking up smoking and urge her to read the detail of Sir Cyril’s report, which addresses directly some of the points she raises. She is right to draw attention to the fact that all these measures are taken in the round as part of a wider package of anti-tobacco measures. We are considering standardised packaging against the backdrop of some important steps taken in recent months, not least Parliament voting overwhelmingly for a ban on smoking in cars with children, and we have also brought forward measures to prevent proxy purchasing of tobacco by adults for children.
Order. I do not wish to be unkind to the House, but so far it is not obvious to me that we have had questions; we have had what might be described as lengthy volleys of words, which are not quite the same thing. If we can have short questions and short answers, we might have a reasonable chance of making effective progress towards subsequent business. Let us be led in that important mission by Valerie Vaz.
As I said, I want to publish the draft regulations alongside the short final consultation to look at any final points people want to make about the wider aspects of the policy. It is important that we do that to move forward in a way that is robust and sensible and that shows that we have considered everything in the round. I want to do that this month; then, if we decide to proceed, we will move to give the House a final decision before the summer recess. There is no reason why the legislation could not be brought before the House before the end of this Parliament.
The Minister’s nanny state instincts do not come as a great surprise. Can she tell us why she set up the review in the first place? Is it because she was not capable of assessing all the evidence herself and making a decision, or because she had already decided what she wanted to do but did not have the guts to announce it and so wanted to use taxpayers’ money to hide behind a review? Whichever it is, it does not inspire confidence. Such decisions should not be farmed out to someone who is unelected and totally unaccountable.
My hon. Friend does not surprise me with his response. Ministers will make the final decision following the process I have outlined, having had regard not only to Sir Cyril’s excellent report but to the other matters I have said we will consider. On this, I cannot agree with him. No one is bringing forward measures to ban smoking; rather, we are all now able to show our support for measures that might have the potential to stop children taking up smoking. I cannot believe that he cannot agree with that. The vast majority of the public are with us, and I fear that in this case he is in danger, very rarely, of being an unpopular populist.
The Minister is very passionate about these issues, but she needs to recognise that tobacco smuggling costs the taxpayer £2.2 billion every year. It is clear from evidence given by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to the Home Affairs Committee, which is looking at tobacco smuggling, that the data do not exist to support the view that plain packaging will make that much difference. Will she work with the tobacco companies, within her time frame, to make sure that we can track those who use legitimate production for illicit and illegal means? We have to stop illicit smuggling.
I welcome those comments by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I know that his Committee is undertaking work on illicit tobacco, and it would be very welcome and helpful if it put its draft report or final evidence into the consultation. If he has not already had the opportunity to do so, I urge him to look at the chapter of the report that Sir Cyril devotes to this matter, which I think he will find of great interest. This is one of the wider issues on which the final short consultation will enable people to put their concerns on record so that they can be weighed in the balance.
I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend’s statement. I am slightly surprised by Labour Members’ response, given that when in government they said that they needed
“strong and convincing evidence of the benefits to health, as well as…workability”.––[Official Report, Health Bill [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 25 June 2009; c. 305.]
Their response was therefore a little churlish. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made some sensible points on the risks of smuggling. I will look at Sir Cyril’s report carefully, including the section on that subject, before I study the regulations when the decision is put to the House. I thank the Minister for her careful and thorough statement.
I came to the House prepared to attack the Minister because I thought she was going to kick this into the long grass. I am absolutely delighted that she has assured the House that she is not going to do that. In the light of the reception from her own Back Benchers, which I am afraid has not been friendly, she can at least be assured of the friendliness from those on the Labour Benches. She is doing exactly the right thing. My father died of lung cancer when I was eight, so I never took up smoking, but many of my friends did. They are now dead and I am still going. What the Minister is doing today will mean that more children will not take up smoking in the first place.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those generous comments. I think that many people in the House will have had their personal family situation touched in the way that he mentions. I never knew my grandparents, so I recognise the power of what he says. We are proceeding, as I hope the House can see, in a sensible but robust way. I have signalled my view that I am minded, as a Health Minister, to accept Sir Cyril’s report and the evidence therein, but there are other considerations, and we will take those into account and bring a final decision to the House as soon as possible.
Is the Minister aware of the anti-counterfeiting measures that are taken in relation to the current packaging of cigarettes? Is she worried, as I am, that the introduction of plain-paper packaging would remove those measures and thus increase the possibility of counterfeiting and misrepresentation of—let us say—illicit tobacco?
The report is not about plain packaging but standardised packaging, which is quite different. Sir Cyril’s report helpfully pulls apart the differences and makes them clear for the reader. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is addressed in the report, and it was given a lot of consideration in the 2012 consultation. I can pay testament to the fact that that was an exhaustive and very thorough consultation, because I have spent much of the past few days, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, reviewing the evidence and submissions to it. These points have therefore been put on the record, but there will be a final opportunity in the forthcoming consultation to make them again, and they will be considered.
I am a non-smoker and I do not want to see young people smoking, but I have concerns about standardised packaging, for two reasons. One is illicit trade, and I will give evidence on that and perhaps meet the Minister and her colleagues about that illicit trade and its impact on our constituencies. Also, I represent a number of print workers. There is an issue about jobs and the effects on the packaging industry. I hope she will take that into consideration.
The hon. Gentleman mentions illicit trade. As I have said a number of times, it is addressed in the report, but there will be other opportunities to discuss that. I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that stopping illicit tobacco coming into the country is the job of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It has had great success in that regard over recent years. With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s point about jobs, we will publish a full impact assessment alongside draft regulations at the same time as the final consultation. Jobs will be one of the issues in that impact assessment.
I strongly support the Minister’s statement and proposals. Does she agree that if 4,000 children a year can be discouraged from taking up smoking there will be a double public health win—not only better health outcomes for those 4,000, but the release of funds for the health treatment of others in their generation for illnesses and disease? Those funds would otherwise have to be used, in time, to treat many of those 4,000 for smoking-related diseases.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. She is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the extent to which we can bear down on smoking and stop people taking it up the first place has a major impact on the sustainability of our health services and will, as she says, free up more resources to be spent on other things. It is a very important health priority. She is also right to allude to the impact of, for example, 4,000 children not taking up smoking. Even a modest impact on a major killer is really important.
If the Minister is able to get the regulations past her own Back Benchers—and I note that the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) failed to declare an interest, as she registered hospitality from Japan Tobacco International on 12 June 2013—when will we see standardised packaging on the shelves? When will that be, should she get the regulations through in the last Session of this Parliament?
Once the Government have made a final decision—and in the event that that decision is to proceed and it is approved in this Parliament—there will be a transition period, as there always is with any tobacco regulations. Because we have not yet made a final decision, we have not decided what that period will be, but there would always be a sell-through period—that has been the precedent set in the past. We are not able to be absolutely definite at this point because of that sell-through period, but I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady about previous sell-through periods for similar legislation.
I thank the Minister for making it possible for Back-Bench MPs to go to the Ministry to read the report this morning. That was a great courtesy and was helpful to parliamentary scrutiny. I bring to her attention two points from that report. First, Sir Cyril Chantler notes that it is
“too early to draw definitive conclusions”
from what has happened in Australia. Secondly, in paragraph 4.21, he says that the research that has been done has been based on “stated intentions” and that those are known to be ones that have to be used with care. He says:
“This caution is justified, and to that extent the findings are essentially indirect and ‘speculative’.”
As the Government may be taking away a freedom from the British people, ought they not to be more certain of their ground than they can be of the ground they currently have from Sir Cyril Chantler?
The Government are not proposing to take away anyone’s freedom. Our tobacco control measures aim to prevent children from taking up smoking in the first place, which is quite a different thing. On my hon. Friend’s detailed point, Members of Parliament will, like anyone else, be able to make submissions to the final consultation. Once Members have had the chance to read the report thoroughly, any submissions they may wish to make will, of course, be most welcome and they will be considered.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s statement and although she is right to take into account factors other than the health of the nation that have been raised by hon. Members, will she confirm that her primary consideration in handling this policy will be the health of the nation and that she will drive it through as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is exactly right and I believe that all Members want to see fewer children taking up smoking. I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that the places where children take up smoking are very unevenly distributed. On maintaining the Government’s duty on health inequality, which we have put in statute, measures to prevent young people and children from taking up smoking directly address some key health inequality issues.
Of course, this is not a Conservative statement, because it is evidence-based, prejudice-free and intelligent. Will the Minister add further lustre to her reputation by starting an investigation into the potential danger of electronic cigarettes normalising smoking?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Sir Cyril’s report makes a brief reference to the normalisation issue and I think the hon. Gentleman will be interested to read that. Of course, the Government have moved to ban the selling of e-cigarettes to under-18s—a move that was supported by the e-cigarette industry for the most part.
May I also place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for making available an early copy of the report so that we could study it? The Minister said that there is compelling evidence, but Sir Cyril Chantler’s report says that he has
“not seen evidence that allows me to quantify the size of the likely impact of standardised packaging”,
other than a “modest” reduction.
Will the Minister now commit to awaiting the outcome of the Home Affairs Committee report on illicit trade, which will be important in determining the impact of the policy? Will she also consider the outcome of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on illicit trade, which showed that illicit trade is on the increase and is costing this Government billions of pounds a year? Finally, will the Minister have a word with and say something to 1,000 of my constituents who have been put on notice by today’s decision that they are not valued and that their jobs are over because of this Government?
I have already said quite a lot about illicit trade. It is mentioned in the report, which the hon. Gentleman has obviously had a chance to look at. He quoted the word “modest” but, as I said just a moment ago, even a modest impact on a major killer is very important. As a Health Minister, I regularly answer parliamentary questions and letters from colleagues throughout the House on issues that affect far fewer children than 4,000 a year. We have spoken privately and exchanged correspondence on the issue of jobs. The impact assessment will reflect on it and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make a submission to the final consultation.
Human nature being what it is, does my hon. Friend not agree that one unintended consequence of hiding cigarettes behind shutters and putting them in standardised packages is that it may only increase the desire of inquisitive children to take up smoking?
I urge my hon. Friend to look at the report and to reflect on the fact that anything we can do to discourage children from taking up smoking is likely to have a lifelong effect not only on them, but on their families. I urge him to look at the detail of Sir Cyril Chantler’s report.
I urge the Minister not to be swayed by those lobbying on counterfeiting and packaging, because this is a deadly, addictive drug. Coffin nails are coffin nails whatever packaging they come in. Given the interest in this subject, does she intend to introduce regulations on the Floor of the House to be debated and voted on?
It is indeed our intention to put the regulations through the affirmative procedure, so the House will have the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman mentions. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the issue of children and addiction. There are some extremely interesting points about that in Sir Cyril’s report, reflecting academic studies on children and addiction, including the fact that children become addicted at a faster speed than adults.
I obviously have an interest in this particular area. May I say to those hon. Members who are protesting that if I could arrange for them to come into an operating theatre and see the damage that oral cancer does to people, they might actually change their mind?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and support. He speaks from a position of knowledge, which is always a good position from which to speak. Sir Cyril and his team visited Australia, and hon. Members can find reflections on the Australian experience to date in the report. We are proceeding on our own timetable, not waiting for the end of Australian litigation on this subject.
My hon. Friend has made many references to Sir Cyril’s conclusions on illicit tobacco, but what conversations did she have with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Force before making this statement? At the port of Tilbury in my constituency, we are waging a war against tobacco smuggling, and my fear is that standardised packaging will make beating it in that war even more difficult.
In the course of policy making, HMRC’s views have very much been sought and taken into account, and it will certainly be part of the final consultation. It is fair to put on the record the fact that HMRC has had considerable success in fighting smuggling over recent years. I of course acknowledge my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I urge her to read the report and to understand the connections between price and illicit tobacco, and to read what Sir Cyril says about the information gleaned from Australia and from our own experience.
Since Richard Doll and Bradford Hill’s report in 1950 and the 50-year study of British doctors from 1951 to 2001 by Richard Doll and Richard Peto, we have known that an over-£50-a-week habit, after tax, does no good to anybody at all. As well as talking about standardisation, which may or may not make a difference, will my hon. Friend make plain to those who smoke that they should not smoke in front of someone younger and that they should not be the first person in a group to light up? That way, we can reduce the incidence of smoking, which will also reduce the number of smokers.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise again the importance that we all place on children not taking up smoking in the first place. Children who start smoking when they are young find it especially difficult to quit. We know that that particularly affects children in more deprived communities, and it often adds to the burden of disease that they carry through their lives.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the House should always pay careful attention to advice from knights like Sir Cyril? Will she confirm that this is a forensic report that is based on the best evidence, and that the Government are approaching the matter entirely on the basis of the best science? Is not the answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) that if the Government did not consult properly on the regulations, far from speeding up matters, it would delay them? I assure the hon. Lady that my colleagues in the Temple would be over the road with an application for judicial review before one could say ban on anything.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments. He is in danger of becoming my second favourite knight of the day. I know that he speaks from personal experience. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the need to make policy carefully in this area. That is what we are proceeding to do. He illustrated the point better than I could have done.
I stand in support of the statement. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the action that she has taken. Has she had an opportunity to look at the Australian experience to see how we might reduce the illicit trade in cigarettes and cigarette smuggling?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. There is a significant chapter about illicit trade in the report and there are reflections on the Australian experience throughout it. If the Government’s final decision is to move ahead, we will look to glean everything we can from the Australian experience.
In November 2009, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) wrote in a letter to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) that
“no studies have shown that introducing plain packaging of tobacco would cut the number of young people smoking or enable people who want to quit, to do so.”
I would be grateful to hear, because not all of us have had a chance to read the report, what additional studies have led Sir Cyril and my hon. Friend to reach the conclusion that she has set out today?
When my hon. Friend has a chance to look at the report, she will see that there have been a number of new reports in recent years. Sir Cyril commissioned an independent academic review that considered not just the Stirling review, which looked at more than 37 academic reviews on the subject, but the supplement to that, which was published in 2013. He concluded that the reviews were very robust. Much of his report is devoted to a scientific and forensic examination of the methodology used in those reviews. I commend it to her.
Is my hon. Friend aware that 15,000 people die from alcohol-related diseases every year in Britain? The logical extension of what she is proposing is that we put brown paper bags over all alcohol. Does she not agree that Conservatives believe in freedom and that the best way to stop smoking is through education, not by banning things? This measure will have a significant impact not just on smuggling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) said, but on small shops and small businesses.
First, I must correct my hon. Friend on one thing. The Government are not proposing to ban anything. I made that quite clear. Secondly, alcohol that is enjoyed in moderation does not do people great harm, but there is no way of enjoying tobacco in moderation that does not harm people’s health. Smoking is a completely different subject from all the others that Members seek to link it to. My hon. Friend wrote to me recently to ask what Health Ministers were doing about cancer in Essex. The more we do to bear down on tobacco use among children, the greater our chances of tackling cancer in Essex and elsewhere.
In my constituency the printer Amcor prints more than 5 billion cigarette packets a year and is one of the largest manufacturing companies of its kind in the country. The factory employs 150 local people and there is a manufacturing train of more than 1,000 local people. I support any measures that will reduce smoking among impressionable young people, but when the Minister talks of standardised packaging, is there any chance that after the review is conducted she can talk of “standardised and complex” packaging, to secure those local jobs at Amcor and other printing companies across the country?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that standardised packaging is complex and far from the plain brown paper packs sometimes portrayed. Sir Cyril mentions that issue and draws a clear distinction in his report. I would welcome my hon. Friend making a submission to the consultation about the impact of this measure on employment in his constituency. That will of course be weighed in the balance, but it is important constantly to remind the House of the enormous economic impact of the burden of disease on our population.
I welcome and support the statement, but what about the 196,000 children a year who take up smoking and who will not desist as a result of this measure? Can my hon. Friend give any feedback on the success of the measures the Government have already introduced in education and other areas to stop children starting to smoke?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for the statement and thank him for it. In April next year, tobacco displays will be behind closed doors, and tobacco vending machines have been banned. He will know that a great deal of money and effort has been put into education, and we are starting to see the fruits of that as the number of smokers in our country has dipped below 20% for the first time. The Government are always open to ideas about effective measures that will stop children taking up smoking in the first place, and I am always extremely happy to hear from my hon. Friend about that.
The Minister will be aware that the all-party small shops group has been following this issue with a great deal of interest for some time. Will she ensure that the impact on small shops will not be overlooked in the process she has outlined today, and will she acknowledge the work of independent retailers who already do a tremendous job in preventing the sale of tobacco to young children?
As a former retailer, I know only too well that a responsible retailer can play an important role in stopping children who should not be buying cigarettes doing so. Indeed, I alluded to that and gave credit for it when we introduced regulations on proxy purchasing, which I know were welcomed by many small retailers. Retailers gave extensive evidence to the 2012 consultation, and they will be able to give any updated evidence on anything that is new to the final consultation.
We have sought at all times to keep the devolved Administrations aware of progress in this area, and our officials have spoken to officials in those Administrations about the matter. I hope to have the chance to speak to fellow Health Ministers in the next 24 hours, and if we proceed to bring forward the draft regulations, those are the points we will clarify.
The Minister will be aware that it is already an offence to smoke in public under the age of 16 and to purchase tobacco under the age of 18. Would it be a good start to ensure that the current laws work before we start imposing new ones?
The Government are seeking to consider all measures that have an impact on children taking up smoking in the first place, and many of our laws and measures are beginning to bear fruit as smoking is at its lowest ever level in this country. Every child who takes up smoking is one child too many, and I urge Members to read Sir Cyril’s report and examine the evidence and what he says about the pressures on children. When Members have reflected on that, I hope they will join me in supporting any measure that can make an impact in this area.
I welcome today’s statement and I support sensible evidence-based measures to curb smoking among the very young. However, I seek reassurance from the Minister about mission creep. Does she agree that chocolate, alcohol and sugary drinks are considerably less addictive and do not kill when consumed in moderation, and that the Government should not be looking to extend their remit into areas where we do not need more regulation?
Some of the issues to which my hon. Friend alludes have been debated on many occasions in the House. Today’s statement is about standardised tobacco packaging, not about banning anything. It is to consider the potential of this policy to stop children taking up smoking, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for that.
The Minister keeps saying that this is not about banning anything, but she is proposing the banning of promotional packaging—that is what she is doing today. Before she does that, will she consider bringing the law in England into line with that in Scotland, where the sale to, purchase by, or possession in public of cigarettes by anyone under the age of 18 is illegal? That is not the case at the moment in England.
My hon. Friend draws attention to the Scottish regime, which has regulatory differences to our regime. It is a matter that I consider and that we keep under review. Indeed, where measures have proved to be effective in any jurisdiction, we take great interest in that.