Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the timetable for implementation of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion (Display and Specialist Tobacconists) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/1256) may result in up to 4,000 more young people taking up smoking than if the original implementation date had been kept to; further regrets that the Government have not explained how they will mitigate burdens on business “while maintaining the expected public health gains”; and calls on the Government to make the health needs of young people the priority by keeping to the original timetable for implementation.
Relevant documents: 32nd Report from the Merits Committee
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, many noble Lords will be familiar with the part of the Health and Social Care Act 2009 which set in motion the regulations previously in place to enact the implementation of the display legislation to start on 1 October 2011, less than three months from today, to be in force in all shops by October 2013. The same regulations provided that small shops had an additional two years, therefore, to prepare. These regulations will not begin to come into force until April 2012 and will not be completely enforced until April 2015. This is a total delay of four years. The reason for this Motion of regret is to give the House an opportunity to discuss the reasons for such a delay and to ask what bearing the persistent lobbying by tobacco industry-funded organisations may have had on the decision that the Government have taken in this regard.
In its 32nd report, the Merits Committee raised some important points. It suggested that the House might want to seek explanation from the Minister about how the regulations could achieve the Government’s policy objectives. It pointed to the inconsistencies of the growth review, which seeks to reduce the regulatory burden on small enterprises. This might account for the delay in implementation for small shops—although I would question this anyway, and will in a moment—but it does not explain why the implementation date for larger shops is being put back. However, I accept that from today, because of the government delays, three months may not be sufficient time for large shops to prepare for this, although they have had quite a lot of notice. The Minister will need to explain the reasoning behind this decision.
The Merits Committee also called attention to the Written Statement on tobacco control issued by the Government on 9 March, in which the Government state that the take-up of smoking by young people is a particular concern. Smoking is an addiction largely taken up in childhood and adolescence and it is crucial to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking in the first place. The report went on to say that nicotine is highly addictive and that each year an estimated 320,000 young people under 16 will try tobacco for the first time and 200,000 of them will become addicted.
We are all aware of the troubling statistics which surround this issue. The Merits Committee went on to say that, taking the Government’s own baseline statistics, the 18-month delay being proposed as a result of the amended regulations may result in 4,000 young people and children becoming addicted to tobacco, with the consequent long-term health effects. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would explain whether the Government think that this is a price worth paying for the delay in implementation.
It is worth noting that in March 2009 Norway passed a similar law, which it implemented from January 2010, allowing retailers only nine months to comply and protecting Norwegian children from tobacco marketing five years earlier than the proposals before your Lordships’ House. There is no objective evidence that the Norwegian retail trade has suffered unduly.
I understand—but I am sceptical—that the reason given for such an extended delay for small shops has clearly been the concern that the legislation might adversely affect their businesses. I am afraid I have to question this. I believe that the cynical campaign that has been mounted to delay implementation can be shown to be more for the benefit of tobacco manufacturers than for small retailers. It has become increasingly clear that what purported to be a cry of pain from thousands of small retailers was really a covert and dishonest campaign by the tobacco industry.
Members of both Houses of Parliament have been contacted by three groups, each purporting to represent tobacco retailers: the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, the Association of Convenience Stores and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. We know that the Tobacco Retailers Alliance is, in effect, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association. It is the most obvious kind of front group; it does not even have its own offices but operates from the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association headquarters. At least that is clear and transparent.
The Association of Convenience Stores can claim a little more independence, and yet it, too, is beholden to manufacturers for subscriptions, sponsorship and advertising. When asked by Stephen Williams MP, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, it confirmed that it receives around £100,000 a year from tobacco manufacturers. I would, however, point out that the Association of Convenience Stores has claimed that the cost of compliance would be between £2,000 and £5,000, and yet its own survey of small shops in Ireland found that the average cost of compliance was only £300.
I regret to say that the National Federation of Retail Newsagents has been much less forthcoming, seeking to conceal tobacco industry funding of its far reaching campaign against the display legislation. It recently procured, without any cost to itself, the services of a lobby firm called Hume Brophy, which telephoned and e-mailed the offices of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs on its behalf in the weeks before the Government were due to announce their decision on the display ban seeking their support for the repealing of the legislation. The Government are to be congratulated on resisting these blandishments.
It was discovered that Hume Brophy also acted for British American Tobacco and the company was asked whether it was funding the campaign. At first BAT denied this but, following questions at its AGM from Kevin Barron MP, it had to admit that not only had it funded the NFRN campaign against the display legislation but that it had also had meetings with Hume Brophy and the NFRN to discuss how it should be taken forward.
Once this was revealed, Hume Brophy wrote to Stephen Williams on 7 June to apologise for its involvement in such covert lobbying—it needs to be congratulated on so doing—and said that the NFRN agreed that it should write to Members of Parliament to explain. John Hume, of Hume Brophy, wrote:
“I understand that a letter to MPs will be forthcoming from the NFRN in the next couple of days”.
So far we are not aware of a single MP having received such a letter from the NFRN. In fact, it has refused to send one.
However, instead of accounting to MPs and Peers for its dubious lobbying techniques, the NFRN has attacked the Public Health Minister for attending the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health celebration of the 40th birthday party of Action on Smoking and Health and for presenting ASH with an award from the World Health Organisation for its work. We know of the right honourable Lady’s commitment to this issue and she is again to be congratulated on her continuing support. Frankly, rather than attacking the Public Health Minister for her commitment to reducing the harm caused by tobacco, the NFRN should do the decent thing and apologise to MPs for covertly doing the tobacco manufacturers’ dirty work.
I believe that the tobacco manufacturers have repeatedly sought to deceive parliamentarians by concealing their central role in the campaign against the display legislation. I would like the Minister’s view of this matter. Does he agree with me that this is unacceptable and does he think that it may have undermined in some way the UK’s publicly stated commitment to live up to its obligations as a party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control? Indeed, the Prime Minister is on the record committing this Government to putting an end to what he has called the scandal of secret industry lobbying.
The Tobacco Control Plan for England published in March clearly states:
“The Government takes very seriously its obligation as a Party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”.
A full chapter is devoted to protecting public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. Is the proposed delay not a concession to exactly those vested interests and the result of a campaign by those who sell cigarettes on behalf of those who make them? Specifically, the Government have affirmed that the tobacco industry had no hand in the development of the tobacco plan, that they would publish details of any policy-related meetings with the industry by any part of government, and that they would require those engaging with the Department of Health on tobacco control to declare any links with or funding from the industry and encourage local authorities to follow that lead. In doing so, the Government are reflecting the mood across the House when during the passage of the Health Bill 2009 the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, moved an amendment to require the publishing of written guidelines on engaging with the tobacco industry. That amendment was withdrawn as the Government undertook that the Secretary of State would write to all Cabinet members reminding them of their duties under the World Health Organisation convention.
This is a Motion of regret. I do not seek to overturn the revised regulations, but I would like the Minister to confirm the commitment of the Government to live up to their obligation under Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation convention to protect their public health policy from all commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry, and to publish without any further delay details of all policy-related meetings with the tobacco industry and its front groups by any part of Government. I beg to move.
My Lords, three years ago the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said that the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, which began in 2007, had been a great success in terms of both compliance and improved health. There had been a considerable drop in the number of smokers. I believe that the enclosed spaces ban has indeed been a great success, and for our social environment—a benefit to the whole population.
But in the Health Act 2009 the Labour Government sought to go further and ban the display of cigarettes in shops in order particularly to give even further discouragement to underage smokers. I thought the case for such a ban on display was a thin one. It ignored the fact that in recent years the display has had to be festooned with off-putting words such as “Smoking kills”, plus hard hitting pictorial warnings. Moreover, evidence from the likes of Iceland and the Canadian provinces where displays are banned was somewhat speculative as to the effect on smoking among the young.
In the UK we seem to have given up trying to keep a balance between the rights of individuals to do something which is legal—to sell and consume tobacco and cigarettes—and society’s desire to help people give up smoking and stop children purchasing cigarettes. The Labour Government ruled that a display ban should come into effect in 2011 for large outlets, but to protect small and medium-sized enterprises to some extent from the costs of the new regulations they should be subject to a ban only from 2013. I leave aside the arguments that this distorts competition between one group of retailers and another, and it may have been justified. Now, because of the recession, the present coalition Government seek to delay the imposition of the ban a further six months for large retailers, and a further 18 months for small retailers. My noble friend Lady Thornton from the opposition Front Bench regrets these delays. I regret I cannot join her in grumbling about the modest delays that have been proposed. There are more restrictions in the offing: from campaigning groups, particularly ASH; a ban on open-air smoking—in parks and beaches, such as applies in parts of Australia—bans on smoking in cars, which would be very difficult to enforce; and, of course, banning the use of brand names, which cropped up during the discussions on the Health Act a few years ago.
There is one country in the world to which I draw the attention of the Government: Bhutan, known perhaps to many walkers on the lower levels of the Himalayas as an interesting country somewhere between India and China. I mention Bhutan because all smoking is banned there, as are all displays of cigarettes and tobacco. How far do the Government want to go in their efforts to discourage the young from smoking? It is a splendid objective, but one which sometimes ignores the other aim of allowing people their own individual choices.
My Lords, I am not going to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, other than to say that I agree 100 per cent with what he has put before your Lordships’ House. I will add a couple of points.
It has to be the right of any manufacturer in this country who is trading a lawful product to consult the Government of the day, the Ministers responsible for their industry, and equally members of the Opposition and all Members of Parliament and of the House of Lords, MEPs, et cetera. That has to be its legitimate right, and I hope nobody is suggesting that some civil servant is going to refuse to communicate with this particular industry. It is a legitimate industry at this point; it has the right to trade. These proposals, albeit at a short delay, are still a restraint to trade for our retail businesses.
I had nearly 30 years in advertising and marketing, and one of the things your Lordships’ House recognises is skill and experience across whole walks of life. I dealt with a great number of branded goods in all sorts of different fields, some of which were sensitive areas. There is no evidence that having a ban on displays does anything for consumption. What it does do is prevent the consumer from deciding to change brands if they so wish. There is no firm evidence, and it is no good anybody shaking their heads—as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, the work that has been done in Canada, Iceland and the other places is all peripheral: it would not stand up to the slightest bit of analysis in any other scientific area.
I say to my noble friend that while I am pleased there is a short delay, I hope very much that the Government will think again in this period and certainly not think about plain packaging, which frankly would bring the whole of the package industry down on the neck of the Government and quite rightly so.
My Lords, it is the clear policy of this Government—and the last one—to put tobacco products out of sight in shops. That must be right. As your Lordships heard when this issue was previously debated, lives are at stake here. There is clear evidence that some 300 lives are lost every day in this country resulting from tobacco-related illnesses. We need to do everything in our power to both prevent young people from taking up the habit and help people trying to quit. Every time we delay implementing this policy, further lives are at risk and more young people will start smoking.
It should also be the policy of this Government to put an end to tobacco industry interference in public health policy—the subject of this Motion. Behind-the-scenes lobbying by the tobacco industry undermines the Government’s clear intent in this area and is bad for the health of our democracy. Decisions of this nature, affecting people’s lives and livelihoods, should be taken transparently. While I know that opinion was mixed during the passage of the Health Bill which became the 2009 Act, there is now broad cross-party consensus that the evidence justifies the prohibition of tobacco displays and that the cost to retailers will not be unreasonable.
The tobacco industry has continued its campaign to undermine the Government’s resolve. Thankfully, it was not permitted to interfere in the development of the tobacco control plan for England—we have already heard about that from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Government should receive credit for taking seriously their duties in that respect. Those commitments include publishing details of meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments. I look forward to that happening in practice.
However, consequently the tobacco industry has used its large profits to seek to obstruct the Government’s progress, through the use of front groups and in the courts by the use of judicial review. The combination of legal challenge and what is often called front-group advocacy is used widely by the tobacco industry overseas. Australia is a case in point here. A 5 million-dollar television ad campaign during Australia’s recent general election purported to be by the newly formed Alliance of Australian Retailers but was revealed to have been funded by tobacco companies.
Smoke-free legislation, in place in England since July 2007, is among the most popular of recent laws, supported by some 80 per cent of the population. Just as the vast majority of people understand and support the reasons for a ban on drink driving and the compulsory wearing of seat-belts in cars to reduce road traffic deaths, most people understand why a ban on point-of-sale tobacco advertising is needed to improve public health—not least those trying hard to kick the habit because of the harm it is having on their own health and their loved ones. However, the tobacco industry continues to campaign against the law through industry-funded groups. With almost no chance of reintroducing smoking into pubs, the well funded campaigns have been described as a pre-emptive defence against further legislation.
We have already heard about what happened when Mr Stephen Williams MP, chair of the All-Party Group on Smoking and Health, revealed how the tobacco industry used retailers as a front for its campaign through direct cash payments and by paying for the services of lobby firms. What makes this practice particularly objectionable and unjust is that, when tobacco companies pay for secret lobbying to protect the promotion of their products, it is the poorest who suffer most—and not just in terms of cash. Research shows that poor smokers are just as likely to want to, and try to, quit but much less likely to do so successfully. Research also shows that tobacco displays are not only linked to youth smoking but also trigger relapse among smokers trying to quit.
We have heard different accounts of the evidence from the introduction of tobacco advertising bans in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Norway. There is plenty of evidence to show that they lead to a considerable reduction in smoking—indeed, by figures well in excess of the official estimates of the likely impact of the measures coming into effect. This is a Motion of regret. I can think of nothing more regrettable than the fact that behind-the-scenes lobbying has led to the delay in the introduction of these much needed display regulations and that lives will be lost as a result.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will know full well how I abhor the habit of smoking, albeit that I am a smoker. I must declare an interest as the convenor of the Lords and Commons Cigar and Pipe Smokers’ Club. We ought to be very careful about the hypocrisy of the last Administration. If smoking was completely outlawed, the entire British economy would literally collapse. As such, as much as I admire the noble Baroness, I regret this Motion—particularly in these hard pressed times, most especially for very small retailers.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend and applaud the fact that she has brought this Motion before the House. People have spoken with great emotion about the rights of individuals. There is no proposal before us to ban people from smoking—perhaps there should be. It concerns me that we always dance round the brutal, central point about smoking: that it is known beyond doubt to be a killer. We are condoning a delay in discouraging young people and others from indulging in a habit that kills.
It is not just the smokers themselves but their families, the grief, the cost to future production as people fall ill and the heavy cost on the health service when we already know that the health service is stretched almost beyond all reason. In the arguments of those who are against my noble friend, I find it difficult that they seem to suggest that this is a private matter for the individual. It is not: it has social implications and the cost falls upon society as a whole. It is not just a cost upon the individual who decides to smoke. What evaluations have been made of the cost of this delay? What will be the cost to the health service? How many people will die prematurely who would not otherwise have died? What will the cost be of supporting families where people have died prematurely because of indulging the habit? This is an absolutely inexcusable delay.
In the last 24 hours, we again heard the Prime Minister make great speeches about how he will not brook delay in his decision to decentralise and make sure that people share in responsibility and participate in the kind of society of which he dreams. If he will not brook delay in that circumstance, why does he do so in allowing a practice to go on of encouraging people to take up a habit that is dangerous and results in death? We must face these central facts. If we condone what the Government propose, we condone more death, suffering, cost to the general public and burdens upon the health service. How on earth can that be justified?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for tabling this Motion of regret. Like many around this House, I am particularly concerned about the issue of tobacco control and I value this opportunity to seek assurances from the Minister on a number of key questions. For the record, I declare my interest as chief executive of the research charity Breast Cancer Campaign and also trustee of Lung Cancer Campaign Carmarthenshire. I have a particular perspective—it is not necessarily an interest—as my father was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was 40 and I was a child. My noble friend Lord Judd talked about the impact on the family. We have not got time to talk about that but I appreciate that comment.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister a full explanation of the rationale for the delay in the implementation of the tobacco advertising and promotion regulations. My noble friend Lord Judd asked what the cost will be. I would particularly like to know who will benefit from this delay. In the Government’s analysis, who are the real beneficiaries?
The House has already heard very passionate words about the campaign by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents to delay implementation, about how it was funded by British American Tobacco and that this was not made clear and transparent. I personally feel very concerned about that—if we do not address it now, where will that lead? I very much hope that the Minister can give us the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is seeking that the Government are still committed to the framework convention on tobacco control, which aims to protect a range of public health policies, and this policy as an example, from vested interests.
We should not think for a moment that our understanding of the impact of smoking on our health is fully understood. We are for ever learning more about the impact of smoking on health and, as our understanding of that impact deepens, so does the case for control. We already know that smoking is the single largest preventable cause of cancer, with smoking causing 28 per cent of all deaths from cancer. Worryingly, an estimated two-thirds of smokers started smoking before they were 18 and almost two-fifths started smoking regularly before the age of 16.
Until recently the link between smoking and breast cancer, a particular interest of mine, was poorly understood, but only a few months ago new evidence emerged demonstrating a clear link between smoking and breast cancer for the first time. While previous reviews had not demonstrated an association between active smoking and breast cancer risk, a cohort study published in the BMJ on 1 March has made a very clear association between active and passive smoking and an increased risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women, the group of women most likely to develop breast cancer. Significantly higher breast cancer risk was observed in post-menopausal women who are active smokers, with links between the intensity and the duration of smoking—what some might describe as a dose response—as well as a link with the starting age of smoking.
Compared with women who had never smoked, breast cancer risk was increased by 16 per cent among current smokers. This is yet more evidence in favour of the need to control tobacco. Among former smokers, the time since quitting smoking was significantly inversely associated with breast cancer risk. It took 20 years for a former smoker’s risk to fully reduce. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about whether or not this is a private matter, passive smoking was also looked at in this research very effectively. The same study suggests an association between passive smoking and breast cancer and this is a really important new piece of understanding. Among women who have never smoked, those with the most extensive exposure to passive smoking had a significantly increased risk of breast cancer compared with those who had never been exposed to passive smoking. This is a very important development in our understanding.
While there is still much more to be done to understand the precise link between smoking, both active and passive, and breast cancer, one thing that is crystal clear to me is that women will not benefit from a delay in this measure. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, makes a very good point about the need for balance in public health policy, but it is important that we recognise that, in that balance, the desire of smokers to quit, the need to prevent young people starting and the fact that our understanding of smoking and the impact on public health continues to unfold need to be factored in.
The case for the tobacco display regulations has already been made. I do not believe that the case for delaying these regulations has been made to the satisfaction of this House and I very much welcome this debate.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. It is a non-financial interest, in that I am an unpaid trustee and director of the charity Action on Smoking and Health. In terms of interest, I could talk at much greater length about the damage done to me and my family by the tobacco industry. Time does not allow a lot of personal background this evening, but I set out some of the reasons why I am so personally opposed to the promotion of tobacco in the debate on the Bill of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones on banning tobacco advertising. For noble Lords or others who may be interested, this can be found at col. 1683 of Lords Hansard of 2 November 2001. In two sentences this evening, I simply point out that my mother was a heavy smoker and when she died aged 53 of hypertensive heart disease, smoking was undoubtedly a factor. I was 16 at the time and my brothers and I became orphans, as our father had died some years earlier and smoking may have contributed to his death also.
In spite of this background, however, I am not arguing for a complete ban on a legal activity—even though very few people around now would think that tobacco would be made legal if it was not already a legal product. I am simply against forcing people to suffer the ill effects of other people’s smoking, I am against encouraging anyone—especially young people—to take up smoking and I am in favour of supporting people who have given up and want to give up. In our debates on the Health Bill two or three years ago, there was a genuine debate in the House about the relative merits of different measures to restrict tobacco consumption and promotion. Some noble Lords put the argument for plain paper packaging, others argued for a ban on point of sale advertising, but it seems very clear now that the reaction of the tobacco industry is so vociferously opposed to both measures that they must both be rather effective at reducing consumption.
I was therefore very pleased not very long ago to see the Government’s tobacco control plan. This makes clear the basic commitment to ending tobacco displays and will look further at plain paper packaging, which I hope will follow. The plan makes it plain that there cannot be any responsibility deal with those who make and sell cigarettes. Tobacco seems to be an almost uniquely hazardous product that kills half of the people who use it when they follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Arguments have been made today about the rights of smokers, but few smokers who I know think that it is right to encourage young people to smoke. Arguments are put forward, directly or indirectly, by the tobacco manufacturers, but these are the same people who denied for decades that there was any link at all between smoking and cancer. Their arguments should have no credibility whatever in these sorts of debates.
Small shopkeepers have been misled. They were told that the display ban would cost them thousands of pounds when in fact the costs would be minimal, perhaps a few hundred pounds. They should also consider that many of their customers might live rather longer if they did not smoke, and that would surely be good for business.
Claims have been made—bogus claims—that tax revenue from tobacco might fall and sales of illicit cigarettes might increase. Common sense tells us that if this were the case, the tobacco manufacturers would not be so bold about these measures. If more tobacco is consumed, they have more profit but less tax is paid. Other measures must be taken to deal with the illicit trade in tobacco. As my noble friend Lady Tyler has pointed out, evidence from other places that have introduced such bans on point-of-sale advertising shows sales falling but at the same time increases in tax revenues and a fall in illicit sales. The evidence that further measures to restrict the promotion of tobacco would be a good thing is clearly shown by the vociferous opposition to it that we have spoken about today.
Earlier today, I heard the Prime Minister, David Cameron, talk about closing the gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest in this country. During his campaign to become leader of my party, I heard the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, speak frequently and powerfully, particularly about the gap in life expectancy of people in the poorer parts of Sheffield compared to those in the more affluent parts of Sheffield, just a few miles away. These gaps relate to the prevalence of smoking as much as to any other factor, so it must be right that the Government continue to pursue all the measures set out in their tobacco control plan.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Thornton has given us this opportunity to debate the tobacco display regulations. This goes over old ground a bit, as a number of noble Lords who are taking part today will recall. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, to our discussions; her speech was outstanding, and I hope that we are going to hear from her again on this subject. She said what many of us agree with and believe needs to be said in this debate.
Although we are debating a Motion of Regret, I would quite like to give the Government a pat on the back for their tobacco control policy. It is a pity that the noble Earl does not have any Conservative supporters behind him supporting the policy. His support is coming from the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Cross Benches and this side of the House, and it would be nice if some of the Conservative supporters of the policy were there too. The Government are sticking pretty closely to the policy of the previous Administration in their approach to the dangers of smoking and in their dealings with the tobacco industry and its lobbyists.
Like my noble friend, I believe that the Government are wrong to delay the introduction of the point-of-sale regulations, not least because there is huge public support for measures designed to make it more difficult for young people and children to start smoking. I remind noble Lords that over 50,000 people signed Cancer Research UK’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” petition in support of these regulations, and that over 80 per cent of the 96,000 responses to the Department of Health consultation also supported them.
I commend the determination of the Secretary of State to do something that I wish our Government had done but which they shied away from—the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. It is no great secret that that was scuppered under the previous Administration at the insistence of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I remember, too, that BIS was not very keen on these point-of-sale measures either. It is good that the Government are pressing on with these because they will have a significant effect on tobacco consumption and particularly on the appeal of tobacco to young people.
I also congratulate the Government on winning a series of legal battles against Imperial Tobacco over the ban on cigarette vending machines. That was another tobacco control measure introduced by the previous Government. It too is important because it will make it significantly harder for children and young people to buy cigarettes.
They have also done the right thing in reaffirming their support for the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control. I remind your Lordships of the Written Answer in the other place on 16 June by Anne Milton, the noble Earl’s colleague and Minister for Public Health. She said:
“The FCTC places obligations on parties to protect the development of public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. We have made our commitment to this very clear in Chapter 10 of ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: a Tobacco Control Plan for England’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/11; col. 916W.]
This means that Ministers should not meet representatives of the tobacco industry. I suggest that it is pretty unwise of them to accept hospitality from it as well.
This is not a lawful product like any other. This, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said, is a product that kills if it is used exactly as the manufacturer recommends. It is different from alcohol or chocolate or other fattening foods. Tobacco is a killer when used properly, which makes it quite different from all those other products. That is why the Government are right to say that they will not deal with the tobacco industry when framing health policies related to tobacco.
This debate comes just after the fourth anniversary of the smoke-free legislation that came into effect in England. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Borrie supported it. It was undoubtedly the most important contribution to public health since the Clean Air Act of the 1950s. Such progress is being achieved against a background of consistently strong support from the public and almost total compliance and acceptance by businesses. Despite this, as we have heard from other noble Lords this evening, the tobacco industry still refuses to accept that the party is over. We have all been on the receiving end of a campaign of misinformation, based on lies and fear, that it has funded and orchestrated. The industry’s aim, which it admits in documents that have been lodged in the United States, is to throw sand in the gears of regulatory reform wherever it can. One of the ways that it does this is by covertly funding front organisations, covering up its involvement where it can.
For example, the industry is behind the Save our Pubs and Clubs campaign, which seeks to link the decline in the number of pubs to the smoke-free legislation. When your Lordships receive letters from this organisation, bear in mind that it is funded by Japan Tobacco International and FOREST, perhaps the most mendacious lobby group of all in this area. As we have heard this evening, the industry has also attempted to conceal its involvement in the retail newsagents’ lobbying campaign against the proposed point of sale restrictions. To begin with, British American Tobacco denied that it was doing it. On 27 April, the Guardian carried a report in which a spokeswoman for BAT said:
“To accuse us of underhand tactics and the funding of an independent retailer organisation … via a PR agency that we use solely for work related to the European wide problem of tobacco smuggling, is untrue”.
One day later, on 28 April, a second report appeared in the Guardian under the headline:
“British American Tobacco admits funding campaign against display ban”.
This revelation that the campaign was funded by BAT is significant. Under the international guidelines to which I referred earlier, the United Kingdom Government are obliged to ensure the drafting of all legislation is free from the influence of the tobacco industry.
We have heard of research from Ireland that shows that the implementation of these measures there has not harmed small businesses. It also shows that tobacco point-of-sale displays influence young people’s perception of smoking as a normal, adult activity. We know that the majority of people start smoking before the age of 19. Therefore, it is crucial that we do all in our power to ensure that young people do not see smoking as cool or a social norm. It is a pity that these regulations have been delayed, but I strongly support what the Government are doing elsewhere on tobacco control policy, and I hope that they will press on with it.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Thornton in regretting that the Government are delaying the implementation of this important piece of legislation. I find it very difficult to understand why the Government are prepared to take such risks with the health of our children and young people. All the evidence shows that tobacco advertising encourages children and young people to start smoking. Most people start smoking when they are young—some as young as eight years of age. I met a 14 year-old the other day who had started smoking when she was nine. Even today children are smoking, despite all the measures that have been put in place. That is why this legislation should be in place—to do everything that can be done to prevent children being tempted. They are unaware of the health dangers and, surely, legislation should be enacted to shield them from the dangers of smoking.
According to a statement from the Department of Health, deferring this legislation in accordance with the Growth Review, announced by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills in November 2010, the Government’s overriding priority is to return the UK economy to balanced sustainable growth, in particular by reducing the regulatory burden on business. The Department of Health says that the priority was to amend the commencement dates in order to provide confirmation for business as soon as possible. The Department of Health also said that it fully recognises that this will defer the public health benefits and that it fully took this into account in reaching its decision. I find it hard to understand that this Government are prepared to delay the implementation in the full knowledge of the damage that will be done mainly to young people and children. There is so much evidence to show that children and young people are heavily influenced by the advertising of tobacco. Surely this should be the Government's overriding priority—the health of children and young people.
If we accept the figures set out in the impact assessment to the Health Act 2009, this delay could mean that up to 4,000 more young people in England will start smoking. We know that the long-term effects on their health will be detrimental and at great cost to themselves, and that there will be a financial cost to long-term healthcare as a result.
On the two policy aims of the regulations, the Department of Health says it expects to amend the display regulations to mitigate the burdens on business, while maintaining the expected health gains. Can the Minister say how this can possibly be achieved, because one policy aim contradicts the other? The Government cannot have it both ways. Children and young people should be our top priority.
My Lords, I had better declare an interest, as did the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in that I am an associate member of the Lords and Commons Cigar and Pipe Smokers’ Club. I am an associate member because I do not smoke, and I therefore cannot be a full member. Nevertheless, I have sympathy with the club’s aims, which are to give some support and protection to people who smoke.
Smoking is, as we have heard tonight, perfectly legal. In spite of all the attacks made on smokers, at least 21 per cent of the population still decides to smoke. In spite of all the measures that have been taken and all the high costs of cigarettes, a fifth of the population still wishes to smoke. Their rights deserve just as much consideration as in any other practice, whatever that may be. They are entitled to the same consideration and protection.
I am most surprised that these regulations from the coalition Government are before the House tonight, because I well remember during our discussion in Committee on the Health Bill in 2009 that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was very doubtful about these measures of screening tobacco products from the public. It really is an imposition that retailers are prohibited from displaying a legal commodity. That undermines freedom. Make no mistake about it; if you allow people to sell a product and say that it is legal to sell it, why on earth then say that although they want to sell it and advertise it, they may not do so—they may not display to people that they can buy a certain product in their shop?
There is a lot of hypocrisy about smoking. If people believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others do, that this is the most dangerous product in the world, they ought to come forward bravely and ban it. That is the answer. Why is it not banned? There are probably two reasons. The first is because of the £10 billion which the Treasury gets every year from the sale of tobacco. The Treasury loves to have that money; make no mistake about that. The other reason is that the cost of enforcing the ban would be so high that it would probably have to spend another £10 billion doing so.
Of course it is powerful to argue that people like me should come out for a ban. We recognise that there is a balance between individual freedom and what is decided about society. That arises in the context of smoking. We are dealing with measures that delay the introduction of a scheme to discourage people from taking up the habit. We are dealing with a proactive situation that is encouraging people to smoke. There is a fundamental difference here.
There is absolutely no difference at all. The brewers and the distillers wish to promote their product. They want people to start drinking as soon as possible because they make big profits out of people drinking. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, waxed eloquent about the dangers of tobacco. I remind him about the even worse dangers of alcohol addiction. Why are we not doing the same about alcohol? If people smoke, they do not go home at night and beat their wives and children. People who drink too much alcohol do that. Indeed, they kill people outside pubs. Cirrhosis of the liver kills many people at a very young age. Why are we allowing drinks to be displayed? Why do we not tax alcohol in the way that tobacco is taxed?
There are lots of arguments against using this huge sledgehammer against tobacco retailers in particular. We know that a lot of pubs have closed because of the smoking ban in public places. How many retailers will go out of business because of this ban? I have been a small retailer myself, and not everyone realises that the very fact that cigarettes are on display and people go in and buy them helps retailers to sell other things as well. They are not just tobacco retailers, they retail a whole host of other things, and the fact that they are selling and displaying tobacco helps them to sell other products.
I really would like to speak for a long time about this—after all, so far the debate has been rather one-sided—but I realise that time is getting on, there is another Bill to be discussed and the Minister has yet to reply. I repeat that I am surprised that we have this legislation before us tonight, and I will allow the Minister to tell us all about it.
My Lords, may I begin by saying how much I welcome the opportunity to debate the noble Baroness’s Motion, and that I recognise the key role she played in taking provisions through your Lordships’ House to end the display of tobacco in shops? I add my thanks to all noble Lords who have spoken.
The Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper sets out the coalition Government’s determination to improve the health of the nation and the health of the poorest fastest. The tobacco control plan for England, published on 9 March, was the first of a number of follow-on documents on how we will improve public health in specific areas. I welcome the positive remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and others about that plan.
Smoking remains one of our most significant public health challenges, and causes over 80,000 premature deaths in England alone each year. While rates of smoking have continued to decline over the past decades, 21 per cent of adults in England still smoke. Smoking contributes significantly to health inequalities and is the single biggest cause of inequalities in death rates between the richest and the poorest in our communities. Smoking also costs society a great deal. Treating smoking-related disease is estimated to cost the NHS in England some £2.7 billion every year, a point brought out very well by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Some 5 per cent of hospital admissions for people aged 35 and over in England each year are attributed to smoking.
It is clear that we must keep up the momentum to reduce the harm of tobacco use. The tobacco control plan sets out how comprehensive tobacco control will be delivered over the next five years within the new public health system. The take-up of smoking by young people is a particular concern. Smoking is an addiction largely taken up in childhood and adolescence, so it is crucial to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking in the first place. Nicotine is extremely addictive and young people can develop a dependence on tobacco rapidly. Each year in England an estimated 320,000 children under 16 try smoking for the first time, and the majority of smokers say they were smoking regularly by the age of 18.
The noble Lord asks a very interesting question. I have seen some papers in the department about that particular product. I am not in a position yet to give the noble Lord any definitive answer, but I would be glad to do so once the Government have reached a view on the matter. It is a very new development.
I mentioned just now that the majority of smokers say that they were smoking regularly by the age of 18—that is, before the age at which you can now lawfully purchase tobacco products. However, we also recognise that while nicotine keeps tobacco users physically dependent, a wide range of social and behavioural factors encourage young people to take up smoking and make it harder for tobacco users to quit. To promote health and well-being we will work to encourage communities across England to reshape social norms so that tobacco becomes less desirable, less acceptable and less accessible. We want all communities to see a tobacco-free world as the norm and we aim to stop the perpetuation of smoking from one generation to the next. To reduce smoking uptake by young people, we all need to influence the adult world in which they grow up. We must also remove the considerable social barriers that smokers face when they are trying to quit.
One focus of the Government’s tobacco control plan is that we must do as much as we can to stop the recruitment of new young smokers. We know that teenagers are susceptible to experimenting even when there is clear evidence of the dangers. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, expressed some surprise that the Government have decided to maintain the ban on tobacco displays. We looked at the evidence and there is evidence that the display of tobacco in shops can promote smoking. We believe that eye-catching displays encourage young people to try smoking. Displays also undermine attempts by adults to quit by tempting them to make impulse buys of tobacco. That is why we are implementing the legislation set out in the Health Act 2009, and related regulations, to end tobacco displays in shops. This will help to change perceptions of the social norms around smoking, especially by young people, who are often the target of tobacco promotion.
However, the Government are also committed to amending the display regulations to mitigate burdens on business. The growth review announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November last year aims to reduce the regulatory burden on business, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-businesses. In line with this priority, as set out in my Written Ministerial Statement made to your Lordships’ House when the tobacco control plan was published on 9 March, we will both delay the implementation of the tobacco display legislation and make it more practical for shopkeepers. The amending regulations that we are discussing today implement the first step by changing the start dates so that the legislation will apply to large stores on 6 April next year and on 6 April 2015 to all other stores, including small shops.
Of course, delaying implementation will delay the expected public health benefits, but this is only one initiative within our tobacco control plan. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, picked up the point we made that we still aim to maintain the public health gains. The evidence shows that limiting displays can be expected to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking and help quit attempts by adults, but we do not expect an immediate, dramatic effect on rates of smoking prevalence. The effect will be long term as successive cohorts of young people grow up in a world of free of tobacco displays.
My Lords, I had planned to carry on and cover that point. In broad terms, the impact of this is being recalibrated, and we will publish further figures in due course.
Experience across the world shows that success in reducing smoking prevalence requires a comprehensive approach; the tobacco control plan for England sets out our strategy for the next five years, and it therefore includes a range of initiatives that will help to reduce smoking uptake and in particular help us to achieve our national ambition to reduce rates of regular smoking among 15 year-olds in England to 12 per cent or less by the end of 2015, from 15 per cent in 2009.
The Government are taking the following actions to reduce smoking by young people. We will end tobacco sales from vending machines on 1 October this year. This will remove an easily accessible, and often unsupervised, source of cigarettes for under-age young people. The Government will review sources of tobacco for young people. The Department of Health has commissioned an academic review of the evidence about this. The report will be completed late this year and we will then be able to determine what further action might be needed to reduce under-age access to tobacco. We will encourage and support the effective enforcement of the law on under-age tobacco sales by local authorities, and encourage local authorities and their partners to play an active part in helping to change social norms around smoking, particularly through using behavioural insights. We will also explore whether the internet is being used to promote tobacco use to young people and, if so, to consider what more can be done on a global level. In addition, as part of a new tobacco marketing communication plan to be published later this year, we will explore ways in which to provide young people with information about risky behaviours that can affect their health, including tobacco use, and to help them to resist pressures to take up smoking. This work is likely to involve digital media, because of their popularity, and reach among young people.
I impress on the House that the regulations that we are debating tonight are only one part of a concerted effort to reduce smoking prevalence among young people. My Written Statement set out how the regulations will be further amended, and I want to reassure the House and other interested parties, in particular retailers with large stores, that the Government will publish draft amending regulations as soon as possible. These will set out how the legislation will work in detail. By moving forward in this way, we believe we have struck the right balance between improving public health and supporting businesses during these difficult economic times. This is in keeping with our deregulation agenda, while continuing to make long-term progress to protect public health.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, asked me specifically who would benefit from the delay in implementation. Our decision to delay implementation will most benefit the micro and small businesses that are so vital to communities across this country, and the delay is entirely in line with the principle set out in the Government’s growth review.
We have also heard about how the tobacco industry has been involved, and has involved others, in lobbying against tobacco control legislation. While we want to be sure that all voices are heard in debates on new legislation and policies, there is an inevitable tension between policies that are intended to reduce smoking prevalence and the interests of those who profit from the promotion and sale of tobacco, including tobacco companies and, to a lesser extent, retailers that sell tobacco products. I am sure noble Lords will agree that we need transparency in lobbying.
The Department of Health works hard to develop workable, balanced tobacco control policies and invites views, not least through formal consultation exercises, from all those with an interest in, or who may be affected by, proposed policies, including retailers. However, as set out in the tobacco control plan, the Government take very seriously their obligations as a party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The FCTC places treaty obligations on parties to protect the development of public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. To ensure transparency, in future all organisations with which the Department of Health liaises on tobacco control, including through responding to consultation exercises, will be asked to disclose any links with, or funding received from, the tobacco industry. We want all parties that engage with the Government to be honest and transparent when it comes to vested interests.
Can the Minister clarify why whoever is lobbying should not disclose where their funding is coming from. Why is it specific to the tobacco industry? There are all sorts of bodies out there with views which may not seem obvious to the Government but underneath there is some objective. Why not have total transparency so that anybody who lobbies discloses where the money has come from?
My Lords, the principle behind my noble friend’s question is certainly unarguable. He makes a very good point that if somebody is concealing the true basis on which they are making representations then that is clearly undesirable. I will take his point back to my colleagues in the department. Nevertheless, in this particular case the mischief lies in the obfuscation that we have seen on the part of the tobacco industry; I am not aware of any other obfuscation that has been at play in this context.
I understand that the Government refuse to meet the tobacco manufacturers. Is that the case and if it is are the Government not missing a trick? If they met the tobacco manufacturers they would be able to put all these points of view to them across the table.
I am not aware that any of my coalition Government colleagues have met representatives of the tobacco industry face to face. I have met representatives of the tobacco industry in the past but not in my capacity as a Minister. It is possible that officials in the Department of Health have had dialogue with the tobacco industry but I cannot give the noble Lord any details because they are not in my brief. If I am able to enlighten him I shall gladly do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked why we had not published any details of government meetings with the tobacco industry. I would say to her that we take very seriously our commitments under the WHO framework convention. We are taking forward work to implement all the commitments in the plan; we will make sure that we publish details of policy-related meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments and we are currently exploring the most effective and appropriate mechanism for doing that.
The noble Baroness and other noble Lords suggested that the decision to delay the display regulations was unduly influenced by the tobacco industry. I want to take this opportunity to reject that emphatically. We are well aware of the views of the tobacco industry through public consultation, correspondence, press articles and the open lobbying that it does. We have listened carefully to the views of a range of retail organisations as well as the public health community; nevertheless we believe that retailers have genuine concerns and that they deserve our support. We have a clear mind on supporting business during these challenging times and we believe that a balance has been fairly struck, although it is open to noble Lords to disagree with that.
My noble friend Lord Naseby and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned the issue of plain packaging. the tobacco control plan includes a commitment to consult on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including an option to require plain packaging before the end of 2011. I must emphasise that the Government have an open mind on plain packaging, and we will use the consultation to gain an understanding of the views of interested parties.
My noble friend Lord Rennard asked what we are doing about illicit tobacco sales. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs published a renewed strategy to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products in April of this year. Our tobacco control plan complements that strategy by stressing the importance of cracking down on illicit tobacco sales, which will in turn reduce tobacco consumption and organised crime and will support legitimate retailers. It is relevant to add that there is no evidence from countries that have stopped tobacco displays in shops that a prohibition increases the illicit trade. For example, we are told by the Irish Government that stopping tobacco displays in the Republic in July 2009 has not caused the illicit trade to increase there. According to a report published earlier this year by Japan Tobacco International, an estimated 22 per cent to 24 per cent of all tobacco consumed in Ireland evaded Irish excise duty, but that is actually a decrease from 2009. It is the first decline since recording began in 2005.
So there are two imperatives here. The Government are committed to improving public health, including by reducing rates of smoking. We are also committed to economic recovery. I believe that our way forward on ending tobacco displays in shops strikes a fair balance between those two priorities. I thank your Lordships for participating in this important debate and I welcome the continuing support of the noble Baroness for tobacco control and I hope that, in the light of what I have said, in particular in the wider context of these regulations, she will feel able to withdraw her Motion.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual detailed and very thorough explanation. I will resist the temptation to open up the arguments we went through in detail in 2009, notwithstanding the fact that my noble friend Lord Borrie, the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart, Lord Naseby and Lord Palmer, expressed their consistent views about this matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, was right to say that the Government should take credit for the tobacco plan, and certainly Members on these Benches will support further work on tobacco control.
I thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his support. Even if he is what one might call an ultra leftist, if not an outright Trotskyite on these matters, he knows that I am in sympathy with his views. My former noble friend Lady Morgan as always had wise and considered words on this. I wish her well in her new and very important position. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, rightly reminded us that across the House we have been working on tobacco control issues for many years, and many noble Lords have made significant contributions to that progress. My noble friend Lord Faulkner is a great friend and campaigner on these issues, and I thank him for his hard work. I agree with him that the Government should be congratulated on their plan and their commitment to tobacco control. I also thank my noble friend Lady Gale for her support. She sat behind me and supported me when I was a Minister throughout the days when we discussed these issues at length.
The Minister has offered reassurance on a number of fronts, particularly concerning the tobacco lobby. I am pleased that the coalition Government are building on the policies established by the last Government, and I do not underestimate the battles that the noble Earl, his ministerial team and his honourable friends will be fighting across Government to extend tobacco regulation. The Minister should know that he has support across the House for the battles that he and his noble and honourable friends are fighting. I welcome the banning of tobacco sales from vending machines and the review of access to tobacco, and I look forward to hearing the results of the other initiatives outlined by the noble Earl. I also welcome the promised transparency, in particular on asking about funding from the tobacco industry. The noble Earl has given us an assurance that details of the meetings will be published. Finally, I welcome his emphatic rejection of the reasons for the delay.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.