HL Deb 09 December 1992 vol 541 cc181-5

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the recently published findings of the Department of Health research into advertising and tobacco, they will implement an immediate ban on all tobacco advertising.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the Government continue to believe that the voluntary agreements with the tobacco industry represent the best way to control tobacco advertising and promotion. The Department of Health discussion document on the effect of tobacco advertising is a useful contribution to the literature, and we have invited comments on it before 29th January 1993.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Department of Health study shows that in those countries where an advertising ban has been implemented, consumption has fallen by what the report describes as a significant degree for reasons which cannot be attributed to other causes? Given that the Government have established very ambitious targets for their Health of the Nation policy in reducing tobacco consumption in this country, are they not in danger of shooting themselves, perhaps not in the foot but in the lung?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we feel that controls on tobacco advertising have a part to play. However, we believe that voluntary controls are the best way forward. I do not accept that the evidence from other countries is quite as conclusive as the noble Baroness seems to suggest. One might think that merely because Norway, Finland and Canada have imposed bans they have seen reductions. One forgets that they started from a much lower level of restriction on advertising. We have had restrictions through our voluntary code on advertising for some 25 years. Through those restrictions and from other causes we saw smoking decline from about 45 per cent. in 1974 to around 30 per cent. in 1990. We hope that the decline will continue but I do not think it is necessarily the case that a compulsory ban on advertising will take us much further.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does that answer mean that my noble friend feels satisfied with the reduction in tobacco smoking? Is he aware that a great many young people can be seen on the streets using tobacco? Does he agree that advertising plays a part in encouraging them to do so?

Lord Henley

My Lords, obviously I accept that it plays a part. We have tried to get advertising reduced. My noble friend knows that the target in the Health of the Nation White Paper is to get smoking down some 20 per cent. by the year 2000. But there are other means of reducing tobacco smoking than by imposing a compulsory ban on advertising. We have a commitment to maintain, at the very least, the level of taxes as they are now. That commitment is unprecedented in taxation terms. We shall continue to advertise and promote health awareness in regard to smoking and obviously we shall maintain the existing voluntary controls.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, while the Minister rightly explains the problem in relation to tobacco advertising, can he give the House any indication at all as to the contribution which the British taxpayer makes towards EC subsidies designed directly and specifically to make tobacco production cheaper and, therefore, the consumption of it wider? Does he not believe that that is a difficult issue to defend?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not in a position of having to defend it. That is another question. I can confirm that we shall continue to campaign to reduce the subsidies to the CAP tobacco regime. We have consistently criticised that regime and will continue to do so.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that people should have the right and freedom to enjoy smoking tobacco? Is he aware also that a ban on tobacco advertising would also be a denial of commercial free speech? The paper to which the Minister refers is a consultative document and not an official report. Is he further aware that the Department of Health has received a research paper which shows that in the OECD countries where advertising has been banned, tobacco consumption per adult has also increased?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I would be the first to agree with the noble Lord that we should have the right to smoke tobacco if we so wish. As to whether we should go further towards a compulsory ban on tobacco advertising, I agree with the noble Lord that one should beware of legislating to deny advertisers their natural liberty to advertise what is at present a legal product without firm evidence that such a ban would have concrete results. One should remember that we have seen considerable progress with a voluntary ban.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that taxation on tobacco is so high in this country that a British pack of 20 cigarettes is much more costly here than it is in any other country, with the possible exception of Denmark? That means that a person who takes a 40-foot lorry loaded with cigarettes and drives it from France to England will make a profit on that one load of £460,000. Is it not highly undesirable to encourage such a trend? Is my noble friend aware that on that one trip the Revenue would suffer a loss of £750,000 in taxes?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can only reiterate the commitment that I have given that, at the very least, we intend to maintain the real level of taxation on tobacco.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the question of freedom is quite irrelevant? My noble friend Lady Jay is not seeking to stop people from smoking. People are quite free to smoke. She is attempting to discourage people from smoking. The basic facts are that smoking kills and advertising increases the level of smoking. What are we waiting for?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord when he says that the question of freedom is quite irrelevant. As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, the right to smoke tobacco is a legal right which we are not trying to deny. At the same time there is a legal right for people to advertise products which can be sold legally. The Government will continue to advise people not to smoke because of the dangers involved, but we do not believe that there is any conclusive evidence that we should bring in a compulsory ban on advertising.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, as a former smoker I take the point about human rights made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason. However, does the Minister agree that there is substantial medical evidence to indicate that smoking is one of the greatest health hazards of the age and that the evidence from Canada and the Scandinavian countries is that their bans on advertising have been particularly valid in reducing the level of smoking by young people at whom many of the advertisements are targeted? Finally, does the Minister agree that the major medical organisations in this country are uniformly in favour of a ban on tobacco advertising?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord when he speaks of the evils and dangers of smoking. In no way was I seeking to imply that smoking is anything other than a potentially dangerous activity. I was trying to say that the evidence as regards tobacco advertising, and as to whether a compulsory ban would be effective, is not as conclusive as the noble Lord maintains. The restrictions imposed in Norway, Finland and Canada were imposed from a much lower level of restrictions beforehand.

We already have considerable restrictions on advertising. It would be wrong for the noble Lord to interpret the evidence as implying that an immediate ban would bring the results which he believes would arise. Nevertheless, if evidence can be brought forward to show that a ban would assist in that cause then, as I tried to imply when speaking of the liberty to advertise, it might be the time to consider imposing more restrictive controls on tobacco advertising.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that this is a consultative document? Is it not unfortunate that those who are in favour of a ban on tobacco advertising should wish to silence the voices on the other side? Will the noble Lord confirm also that in Italy and Portugal, where bans have been in force since 1977, tobacco consumption has increased by 8 per cent. and 7 per cent. respectively?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot confirm the noble Lord's figures as regards Italy and Portugal. I can confirm that their record on reducing tobacco consumption is less good than our record in spite of their total ban on tobacco advertising. As regards the other part of the noble Lord's question, he is right that it is a consultative document and we await his comments before January 1993.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, I think my noble friend should ask his question next, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, some years ago I had responsibility for drawing up one of the voluntary agreements. The facts then showed that advertising did not increase the level of smoking but merely caused people to change brands. Is that still the case?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I note what my noble friend says. Some would argue that that is the case while others would argue that advertising of tobacco increases the level of smoking among certain categories. It is difficult to reach a definite conclusion on this matter.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, should we assume that the Minister is saying that he does not accept the result of the research carried out by his department? More relevantly, are the Government influenced in any way by the fact that Imperial Tobacco gave 2,000 poster sites to the Conservative Party during the last election campaign? Is there any influence there?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I refute totally what the noble Lord says. As regards the first part of his question, the noble Lord is guilty of somewhat over-interpreting the evidence put forward in the discussion document.