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Volume 735: debated on Monday 6 February 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they are ensuring the cross-government implementation of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

My Lords, the Government take very seriously their obligations as a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The convention encourages parties to take a comprehensive approach to tobacco control to improve public health. The United Kingdom is a recognised leader for tobacco control internationally. The Government’s tobacco control plan sets out a government-wide approach to tobacco control, as well as what will be done to support local authorities to reduce rates of tobacco use.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the reason that the United Kingdom Government and 173 other Governments have become parties to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco control is because the tobacco industry has had a uniquely malign influence on health policy in all countries where tobacco is sold. Does he agree that its record in the United Kingdom since the 1950s has consisted of first denying the link between tobacco smoking and ill health, then suppressing the results of its own research on the addictive properties of nicotine, then denying the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and now funding front organisations to oppose tobacco control legislation such as the point-of-sale restrictions, which I am delighted that the Government have embraced? Are not all these powerful reasons for sticking to the framework convention and ensuring that the tobacco industry has no influence whatever over the formulation of health policy relating to tobacco?

My Lords, yes, the vested interests of the tobacco companies are well recognised. The Department of Health is careful to ensure that the Government’s obligations under the framework convention are met, including the treaty obligation to protect public health policies from the vested interests that he referred to. For example, I hasten to reassure him that the tobacco industry was not involved in the development of the Government’s tobacco control plan, which was published last year.

Can my noble friend outline what steps the Government are taking to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, particularly that which is targeted at vulnerable young girls?

My Lords, we shall shortly be announcing a consultation on the subject of plain packaging for tobacco. We wish to hear views from all interested parties on that subject.

My Lords, it was as a direct result of the evidence of the underhand tactics of the tobacco industry that the UK very wisely adopted Article 5(3) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In 2008-09, the noble Earl’s noble friend Lady Northover successfully asked the then Secretary of State Alan Johnson to write to all his ministerial colleagues drawing attention to and outlining the importance of Article 5(3) and asking for their assurance that they were abiding by the article in their dealings with the tobacco industry. I invite the Minister to agree to ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to do the same with this Government.

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and indeed all Ministers in the department, have had no direct dealings—or indeed indirect dealings—with the tobacco industry since coming to office. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness’s message will be very warmly received by my colleagues.

Is my noble friend aware that almost 50 per cent of loose tobacco sold in the UK comes from illicit and illegal traders on the streets, which makes it more affordable for children and young people? What progress is being made in cracking down on the illicit tobacco trade? As my noble friend will know, it is an industry controlled and funded by an international network of organised crime gangs.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency published a renewed strategy in April last year to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products. Our tobacco control plan complemented that strategy by stressing the importance of cracking down on illicit tobacco sales, which will in turn reduce tobacco consumption and organised crime, and support legitimate retailers. In fact, the latest figures show that fewer and fewer people are using illicit tobacco. The market for illicit cigarettes was down to 10 per cent in 2010 from 21 per cent in 2000.

My Lords, some years ago I was given a statutory instrument, the Sheep Scab Order, which was dated about 1914 and had an excellent recipe for sheep dip made from tobacco. I wonder whether the current tobacco problem could be relieved by diverting tobacco from smoking to sheep dip.

My Lords, the Minister says that the control of illegal importation of tobacco is showing progress. Is it not the reality that the vast majority of illegally imported tobacco and cigarettes is being consumed by young people, and that while the official statistics may show one thing, all the evidence, when I inquired of the tobacco industry on this particular aspect, is that this is still the major problem in terms of young people taking up smoking?

My noble friend is absolutely right that that is where the problem principally lies: 320,000 young people experiment with smoking or take it up every year. That is a very serious rate of incidence and it must be tackled at every possible level. The tobacco control plan sets out a concerted programme of action to try to do just that.

My Lords, on 11 July this year the noble Earl said to the House,

“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”.—[Official Report, 11/7/11; col. 560.]

Could the noble Earl please say what that mechanism is, and whether it is now being implemented?

My Lords, since 2010 the Government have published details of hospitality and gifts received by Ministers and special advisers, ministerial meetings with external organisations, and all overseas trips by Ministers across government. These details are published on each department’s website. The information is published quarterly to promote transparency and to provide the public with up-to-date information.