HC Deb 13 May 1994 vol 243 cc517-25 2.33 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on a new voluntary agreement controlling tobacco advertising. Before doing so, however, I should like to apologise to the House for the fact that the text of the remarks that I hoped to make in the earlier debate, but did not make, were prematurely released in the Vote Office.

I am pleased to announce that the United Kingdom health Departments and the tobacco industry have concluded negotiations on the main elements of a new voluntary agreement on tobacco advertising and promotion. A number of significant new measures to control tobacco advertising will be introduced that will have a wide-ranging impact, in particular on the exposure of young people to advertisements and on the effectiveness of health warnings. I believe that they provide reassurance as to the value of the system of voluntary controls on tobacco advertising in delivering an effective level of health protection.

The main additions to the existing agreement agreed between United Kingdom Health Ministers and the tobacco industry will be: the removal of all permanent shop-front advertising for all tobacco products by the end of 1996; a reduction in the expenditure allowed on cigarette poster advertising by 40 per cent., which will give a new limit for cigarette poster advertising spend of 30 per cent. of the 1980 expenditure level, allowing for inflation; the removal of all small poster advertising for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco, including bus stop advertising, although 48-sheet posters and above will still be allowed; the removal of all mobile advertising for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco, including advertisements on buses and taxis; the removal of all poster advertising for all tobacco products from within a 200 m radius of school entrances; a significant increase in the size and impact of health warnings on cigarette and hand-rolling tobacco advertisements, including increasing the space devoted to the health warning to 20 per cent. of the total area of the advertisement, increasing the size of the lettering of the health warning by approximately 80 per cent. in posters and 50 per cent. in press advertisements and rotating the presentation of health warnings between black lettering on a white background and white lettering on a black background to increase impact; the introduction of health warnings on cigar and pipe tobacco advertisements for the first time, covering 10 per cent. of the total area; a requirement for all point-of-sale advertising material for cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco, cigars and pipe tobacco to carry health warnings, not just larger items of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco advertising; the introduction of health warnings on certain items of promotional material for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco, including, for example, beer mats and ash trays; controls on the content of cigarette advertisements, currently being updated by the Advertising Standards Authority, should prevent the use of humour in cigarette advertisements that would be likely to have a particular appeal to the young; the introduction of a new code of practice to help to ensure that free samples of cigarettes are not available to under-18s; a ban on advertising tobacco products on computer games and other computer software; and provision for increased expenditure by the committee for monitoring agreements on tobacco advertising and sponsorship on monitoring compliance with the new agreement.

The new agreement, which will run for five years, will be published and come into force shortly. It will need to be approved under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

This statement is about four hours late. It is a Pontius Pilate statement. We now know the extent of the tobacco influence on the Department of Health.

This statement will do nothing to reduce the 300 deaths a day that are caused by the consumption of tobacco products. It is a repudiation of Professor Smee's direct advice to the Government and of the Government's "Health of the Nation" targets, which now will not be reached because of the continuation of the insidious advertising of tobacco products. The Minister did not mention how many lives would be saved or the effects of the targets on the consumption of tobacco products.

The Minister mentioned a reduction in the expenditure allowed on cigarette poster advertising by 40 per cent. and a new limit…of 30 per cent. of the 1980 expenditure level, allowing for inflation. What does that mean? How much in real terms will the tobacco industry be allowed to continue to spend, year on year, to continue the consumption of its product by children to replace the 300 people a day whom it kills?

Poster advertisements are to be removed from within 200 m of school entrances—what a joke. Does that mean that children will have to go to school with their eyes closed and not look at posters from the time they leave their houses until they get to school? If the Minister is serious about this matter, why not take into account school premises rather than school entrances alone? Will the industry still be able to advertise on sites opposite school playing fields and on other premises owned by education authorities?

The Minister's statement is confirmation of the fact that the Government are not serious about tackling the industry which is targeting children specifically but not only on their way to and from school; every time children leave their homes, they are confronted by tobacco advertisements whose specific purpose is to encourage children to start smoking and then to continue doing so.

The space devoted to health warnings is to be increased to 20 per cent. of the total area covered by an advertisement. However, a few weeks ago the Government were saying that they were would be tough on the industry and would sort it out. After great negotiations—hard hours spent by the Minister for Health at his Department—there is to be a 2.5 per cent. concession. Why is there not to be 80 per cent. warning and 20 per cent. advertising? Is it something to do with the £200,000 that the Conservatives got from this country's biggest manufacturer of tobacco products in the weeks leading up to the previous general election? Is this the pay-off for the tobacco industry?

As for the content of advertising, will the Minister give a commitment that the Advertising Standards Authority will introduce the new controls only after consultation with the medical profession and other interested parties? So far, the ASA has failed disgracefully adequately to police the agreement. The fact that it has done its job inadequately has allowed Regal and Silk Cut to produce advertisements deliberately designed to interest children in smoking and to ensure that they maintain the habit.

The Minister also announced a ban on the advertising of tobacco products in computer games. I assume that the reason for the ban is that the Government now accept in principle the concept that the advertising of tobacco products to children is harmful and that it is also harmful to the public in general. Therefore, why not ban completely the use of any other products for tobacco advertising? The Government cannot have it both ways. If they accept in principle the notion that a ban is necessary because of the harmful nature of a product, the ban should be extended. The simplest way to proceed would be to allow the House time next week to pass the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron).

Mr. Sackville

Let me first deal with the contemptible allegation that the Government have been influenced by the tobacco industry. Does the hon. Gentleman think that if such influence existed we would have increased the price of tobacco products in every successive Budget to a greater extent than almost every other European country? In this country a packet of 20 cigarettes of the most popular brand costs about £2.50 whereas in some other European countries it costs between 40p and 50p. Does he think that our increases are the actions of a Government who have been influenced by the tobacco industry?

The hon. Gentleman tries to rubbish the voluntary agreement which we are strengthening. I remind him that, since the agreement has been in effect, the number of people smoking in this country has declined progressively. In many other countries where there has been a ban there have often been smaller decreases in the numbers smoking. Indeed, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said in the debate on the Trade Marks Bill: In other countries, cigarette advertising is banned. In Hungary, there is no advertising of cigarettes, but there has been an enormous growth in the consumption of cigarettes."—[Official Report, 18 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 671.]

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Before I call hon. Members, I must point out that I am looking for short questions and short answers.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

My hon. Friend the Minister enumerated the practices that would not be allowed in future. Will he enumerate the forms of advertising that will still be permitted? Is it not absolutely clear that the continuation of that advertising will lead to a deterioration in health?

Mr. Sackville

I have said that there will be a limited amount of poster advertising, but I have pointed out that under the new limit the spend will be only 30 per cent. of the equivalent spend in 1980. That is a considerable reduction in spending. There will continue to be certain promotional items inside shops, for example. Many of the important parts of the advertising programme of the tobacco industry will no longer happen; they will be reduced progressively. I think that my right hon. Friend will agree that that is a major step in the right direction.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I am delighted that the Minister has at long last made a statement to the House. He was forced to do so because he tried to slip the statement in during a debate on amendments to the Tobacco Advertising Bill. How can he think that the voluntary agreement has worked? He does not appear to have commissioned any research into the matter. Will he now commission research into the voluntary agreement and then tell the House what that research is? Will he ask the tobacco industry to open the monitoring committee to the public so that they may be aware of what is happening?

Why is there nothing in the statement about inserts in comics or about advertising in magazines and newspapers? Will there be no voluntary agreement on that? Does not the Minister now see that a voluntary agreement does not work and that, therefore, the Tobacco Advertising Bill should have gone forward?

Mr. Sackville

I remind the hon. Lady that we take the view that a voluntary agreement is the way forward. There is no absolute proof of the effects of advertising, whether in terms of overall consumption or in terms of switching brands. There are no absolutes in this: we cannot be certain. All we know is that we shall continue to follow a programme of removing advertising from children as much as possible and that we shall ensure that anything that we do has that theme.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

The Department of Health accepts that smoking is harmful per se and seeks in "The Health of the Nation" to reduce its incidence. Does it accept that advertising influences consumption? If advertising does not influence consumption, what is the point of trying to reduce advertising? If it does influence consumption, why negotiate to allow advertising to continue at all? Why not ban it altogether?

Mr. Sackville

That is the key question which surrounds the whole debate. We take the view that to seek to ban the advertising of a substance that is itself legal is wrong. We seek, therefore, to take action that is in proportion to the available evidence of the impact of advertising. That is what controls our entire policy.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

This is the 11 th time that the voluntary agreement has been renegotiated. On each occasion, the agreement has restricted advertising. The reason, quite simply, is that advertising increases not only brand share but consumption.

The Minister says that poster sites must be outside a 200 m radius of school entrances. Under the existing voluntary agreement there has supposedly been a restriction on posters that are visible from schools for some time. Yet the Minister knows fine well that that restriction has been breached. I have here photographic evidence, compiled by a doctor in London, which shows that the restriction has been breached in the case of more than two thirds of the schools included in the survey. Will the Minister now tell us what policing and monitoring there will be of the voluntary agreement, which has been broken time and again, while our children are being induced to take up this habit, which prematurely kills many hundreds of people each day?

Mr. Sackville

I have made it clear that we are putting extra resources into the monitoring of the agreement. We are serious about the agreement. My right hon. Friend, who negotiated it, and the Department of Health will be making quite certain that the industry will stick to what it has agreed to. That cannot always be said of statutory bans. Once a statutory ban is introduced, companies go to great lengths to try to get round the letter of the law. Companies will stay within the spirit of the law and, if not, they know the consequences.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I thank my hon. Friend for apologising to the House. I am certain that the House accepts his apology.

First, does my hon. Friend accept his own figures that show that lung cancer, especially among women, is on the increase? Secondly, does he accept that that has been caused mainly by smoking? If that is the case, why have we an agreement that is to last for five years? Surely, if it is to be of any use at all, it should be for a much shorter period so that we can get on with trying to stop advertising altogether.

Mr. Sackville

We have the freedom to review the agreement at any time. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is appalling that more young women are smoking and that there seems to be a higher incidence of lung cancer among young women. We all agree that we want to reduce smoking. What we are about is deciding how to do that, and we disagree with my right hon. Friend on that point.

The Government believe strongly that the voluntary agreement has been a success and that it will continue. It is only part of a comprehensive package, which includes, as I said earlier, action on price by having almost the most expensive cigarettes in Europe and a large, extra budget for an advertising campaign to demonstrate the dangers of smoking. It is a part of a package. My right hon. Friend must not—I hope that he does not—go down the path of thinking that advertising is the only aspect that affects matters. It is a totem around which many people dance; it is not the only part of our programme.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is becoming obvious to me that the appeal that I made a few moments ago for short questions and short answers has fallen on deaf ears. If that continues to be the case, many hon. Members who wish to speak will not be successful.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is the Minister aware that, in the Select Committee on National Heritage two or three weeks ago, the tobacco companies admitted that they were spending £8 million on television sponsorship of snooker—by Benson and Hedges—of horse racing, of rugby league and of other sporting programmes on which they are advertising despite all the bans? The Minister has mentioned nothing about any restraints on that. The reason why the Government have given the Minister those few tokens to announce is to enable them to spend cash in future.

Mr. Sackville

That is a matter for my ministerial colleagues in the Department of National Heritage. The hon. Gentleman knows about the question of sports promotion. To describe what I have said today as "tokens" when one considers the enormous reductions in spending that are implied by them is very wide of the mark.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the incidence of smoking ranges from 6 per cent. among doctors to about 75 per cent. among mothers on income support and that children with parents who smoke are two and a half times more likely to smoke? Does he agree that, as well as the discussions about the voluntary agreement and the Bill, the most important thing is to act on what people know and on what influences them?

Mr. Sackville

I absolutely agree with the research about which my hon. Friend speaks that is related to the influence of parents. The evidence that there is a very much higher likelihood of children whose parents smoke taking up smoking themselves is overwhelming.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is not the real reason why the Government have not been prepared to ban tobacco advertising to be found in the letter from Imperial Tobacco Ltd. of 27 January 1992, which states clearly that the Government did a deal with Imperial Tobacco not to ban advertising during this Parliament? That is why we cannot pass the legislation and that is why we have a voluntary agreement, which we all know will not work. Is not it the snidy little deals done in smoke-filled back rooms that has led to the Government's squirming on this occasion?

Mr. Sackville

The Government have no wish to ban tobacco advertising. We mean to go on ensuring that we have a comprehensive package, including restrictions on advertising, to reduce the incidence of smoking among the population as a whole.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

The Minister has prescribed very harsh terms in his statement. May I ask a question on one term? If there is to be a health warning on promotional material such as beer mats, how far does he intend to go down that route?

Mr. Sackville

That is a matter of the definition of promotional material. It may become a factor between the two sides. That is precisely why a voluntary ban can be much more effective than a ban that seeks to define exactly the definitions. The tobacco industry must remain within the spirit of the definition. We all know what we regard as promotional material. If the industry goes outside that common-sense definition, it will know the consequences.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

Will the Minister acknowledge that, despite the introduction of the voluntary code, the tobacco industry will be spending far more money on advertising than the money that health promotion units will have to spend on preventing smoking, especially among young children? Until the Government are prepared to accept the contents of the Tobacco Advertising Bill or a similar Bill, will the Minister ensure that health promotion units receive comparable sums?

Mr. Sackville

If we think that further resources are needed for promotional campaigns, we shall make those resources available. As was said earlier, with 20 per cent. of the space on advertising posters containing health warnings, we shall get a huge amount of free anti-smoking material, to which the public are subject. That is something that must not be overlooked.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Will the Minister tell the House how many young people's lives he expects to save through the action which he has announced today? What of the other vulnerable young people? Are their lives to be consigned to the dustbin like the Bill today?

Mr. Sackville

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no absolute research on the different motivations of people taking up smoking. We can try to continue to provide a package of measures to persuade people not to take up smoking. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he would ban all tobacco products, that is another matter.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

First, may I press the Minister to apologise to the House, rather than to blame the Vote Office, for dodging making a proper statement? Secondly, will he ask the question put by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea): how many lives does he expect to be saved? Will he confirm that there will be a cut in the tobacco industry's donation to the Tory party as a result of the voluntary agreement?

Mr. Sackville

I apologised unreservedly. I would not blame the Vote Office, my officials or any officials of the House for anything that happened. I would be happy to repeat my apology. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when I made it.

Does the hon. Gentleman seriously think that a Government who have progressively increased the tax on the products of a company are likely to be seeking donations from that company?

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

My hon. Friend has announced an increase in the amount of space on an advertisement that must be devoted to the health warning. Does it follow that the Government feel that the health warning has been effective in reducing tobacco consumption? If they do, do they agree that we should not ban all tobacco advertising?

Mr. Sackville

We agree that we should not ban all tobacco advertising. We seek to restrict it, and we seek to strengthen the effect of the warnings that it contains. The lettering has been increased to make warnings more visible, which was precisely what we were advised to do by ASH. That is what we are delivering.

Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)

The press release states that the Government will introduce a new code of practice to help ensure that free samples of cigarettes are not available to under 18s". It is my understanding that that code of practice already exists in the current voluntary agreement. Is the fact that the Minister feels bound to introduce a new code of practice to ensure that restriction evidence that the existing one is not working? If so, is it not self-evident that the voluntary agreement does not work?

Mr. Sackville

Obviously there are parts of the current agreement that are unsatisfactory or need improvement, which is why we are announcing improvements.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

If we are to proceed by way of a voluntary agreement rather than by a ban on advertising, which I greatly regret, the new voluntary agreement is a significant improvement on its predecessor. To that extent, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and his right hon. Friends on what they have achieved in the negotiations. But if the Department of Health is serious about its responsibility—to promote the health of the nation—it will concentrate on it singlemindedly and judge policies by their results. He can very well justify a ban on the advertising of tobacco products, which would reduce consumption, while retaining the legality of the sale of the tobacco products. We do not want to criminalise the tobacco trade as that would lead to effects comparable to those of prohibition in the United States of America. It would cause a new set of evils. My hon. Friend need have no difficulty in making that distinction.

Mr. Sackville

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, given his views on the subject and the Bill, which I know. I take what he says very seriously.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

In his press release the Minister refers to the removal of all small poster advertising for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco". Does that cover cigar and pipe tobacco? Does it cover the advertising of a promotion or brand name?

Mr. Sackville

As the hon. Gentleman may know, negotiations are currently being held with the European Community about the bearing of warnings on single cigar packaging. That matter has to be negotiated, but all such matters are being progressively tightened up.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The House knows my retail experience and interest in the subject. Does my hon. Friend agree that advertising is not a factor in the consumption of tobacco products? If that were so, the consumption of a hand-rolling tobacco called Drum would not be as high as it is—it has the third largest share of the market in this country when it is not legally sold here—but would be outstripped by Amber Leaf and Rolled Gold. Those tobaccos are made in this country by tobacco companies in this country; they can advertise and have special offers in this country.

Mr. Sackville

My hon. Friend probably has more expertise on the likely effect of advertising than anyone else in the Chamber, and I thank him for his comments.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the sponsorship of sport by tobacco companies is outside the agreement, so will be subject to other negotiations? I think that he will share my concern that Opposition Members might find it difficult were sponsorship to be withdrawn from many such events. They would not be able to enjoy those events that they now attend freely and watch on television. Those events allow them to enjoy, not the hospitality, but the generosity of tobacco companies.

Mr. Sackville

I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks will be heard by the Department for National Heritage.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will the Minister answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) about computer games? Will he confirm that there is no evidence to show a distinction between the effects on young people of advertising in computer games and the effects on them of advertising in other media to which they are introduced, such as inserts in comics?

Mr. Sackville

Clearly we must ensure that advertising and promotion is not allowed in relation to any items that are aimed specifically at young people. That provision must become part of the agreement.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

No doubt the Minister is aware of the memorandum from the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Prime Minister last November in which he said that, if the Government wanted to be seen to be serious about wishing to reduce the prevalence of smoking and to improve health, they would introduce an outright ban on tobacco advertising. May we take it from his statement today that the Government do not wish to be seen to be serious about tackling the problem?

Mr. Sackville

The Government are extremely serious about tackling the problem in a number of ways. The idea that an advertising ban is the only thing which must be addressed to try to reduce the incidence of smoking is a complete myth.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the health warning would be very much more effective if the size of the lettering was increased by more than a mere 80 per cent.? The lettering is so small at the moment that it is often hardly legible. If the space for the warning is to be increased to 20 per cent. of the poster, will not that waste of lot of space? Would not it be better to increase the size of the lettering by more than 80 per cent.?

Mr. Sackville

We have arrived at the answer of a minimum of 6 in because we believe that that is generally readable at some 210 ft. We regard that as a fair distance.