HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc157-8
3. Ms Stuart

If he will make a statement on progress towards implementing the EC directive on tobacco advertising. [29315]

The Minister for Public Health (Ms Tessa Jowell)

A common position was agreed on 4 December at the Health Council and was formally adopted on 12 February at the Research Council. The text will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Government will continue to work hard to achieve final adoption of that important and long-awaited legislation.

Ms Stuart

Is it not the case that that historic agreement would not have been achieved without the British vote? Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Birmingham health authority on its public health policy of a smoke-free city, particularly its half a million annual expenditure programme targeting both young and adult smokers? Will she also congratulate Birmingham on achieving a 50 per cent. increase in the number of calls to the national quit smoking line this year alone?

Ms Jowell

I am happy to congratulate Birmingham on its efforts to reduce smoking. Birmingham sets a clear example and the Government will build on the experience of such cities in taking action across a range of areas to combat smoking. We shall publish our plans in a White Paper later this year. Birmingham is a smoke-free city; it is an extremely good model for combating the harm done by smoking in public places. However, it is clear that a ban on tobacco advertising must be central to all our efforts to protect children from the pernicious effects of tobacco manufacturers' efforts to recruit them to smoking and to get them to take up an addictive habit that will only do them harm.

Mrs. Lait

Is not the high cost of tobacco one of the most effective deterrents to smoking? What discussions has the Minister had with her fellow Ministers in the Health Council about raising the excise duty on tobacco in other European countries so that bootleggers and smugglers can no longer undercut our high taxation policy by selling cheap tobacco to youngsters?

Ms Jowell

I agree with the hon. Lady that maintaining the high cost of tobacco is an important part of combating consumption, particularly among children. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of that and has raised the matter with other European Finance Ministers. He has also taken a lead in setting up tough action to combat fraud and smuggling.

Mr. Stevenson

While my hon. Friend's statement about a ban on tobacco advertising in Europe is welcome, is it not a serious contradiction, given that the European Union spends some 1 billion European currency units on subsidising tobacco that cannot be sold elsewhere because it is of such a low quality? Will my hon. Friend make every effort in the European Council to end that serious situation? On the one hand, we are trying to reduce smoking but, on the other, taxpayers' money is subsidising tobacco production.

Ms Jowell

Yes, that is a contradiction. I shall raise the matter with other European Health Ministers, just as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has expressed the Government's concern in the Agriculture Council.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Is the Minister aware of the considerable disparity between the revenue raised by the Chancellor through tobacco sales and the low priority given to resources for health promotion? The two figures do not bear comparison. As well as driving forward the agenda to secure an EEC directive, does she recognise the need to promote health among young people? They should not start smoking, but, if they have, they should be encouraged to stop.

Ms Jowell

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor shares with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Ministers across Government a determination to reduce both the rate at which children take up smoking and tobacco consumption. Smoking costs the national health service £1.4 billion every year. We are determined to reduce that figure by cutting consumption. I remind the House of the previous Government's legacy to the children of this country: in 1992, one in four 15-year-old girls smoked; in 1997, the figure was one in three.

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