Tobacco Product Packaging: 16th April 2013

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
10. When the Government plan to respond to the consultation on standardised packaging for tobacco products; and if he will bring forward legislative proposals on standardised packaging. [150773]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
I am afraid that I cannot give a timetable, and I make no apology for the fact that this Government are taking a careful look at all the evidence that has come out of the consultation.

Dan Jarvis
Figures from Cancer Research UK show that more than 1,100 of the 10 to 14-year-olds in Barnsley are regular smokers. Given that countries such as Australia and New Zealand have now committed to standardised packaging, I ask the Minister again: are the Government planning to legislate to give millions of children one less reason to start smoking?

Anna Soubry
I find it most bizarre that the advice I am given by my officials—and I absolutely accept their advice—is that, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, because of judicial reviews of consultations, I am not allowed to have an opinion, so I do not give any ​opinion, notwithstanding the fact that many people would say that he advances a number of important arguments. I will say, however, that it is important to look at all the emerging evidence, including that coming out of Australia. As he will no doubt know, Australia continues to face a legal challenge that is yet to be resolved. It is also important to be aware of that.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con)
Does the Minister agree that adult smokers have already made a conscious decision to disregard all the health warnings that are so highly publicised, and are therefore unlikely to be influenced by the appearance of a packet of cigarettes? Is not the best way of deterring children from smoking the setting of a good example by responsible parents who know how much money their children are spending without supervision, and what they are spending it on?

Anna Soubry
If only it were as simple as that. Emerging evidence that I have seen suggests that it is the attractiveness of the packets that leads young people to decide to take up smoking. It also suggests—it is important for us to bear this in mind—that standardised packaging is not intended to persuade those who choose to smoke to continue to do so, and will make no difference to their choices. The aim is to protect children and young people.

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab)
22. It is a well-known fact that for many decades cigarette packaging has been there to attract the eyes of not just current smokers, but those who are yet to become smokers. Given that 50% of people who smoke die prematurely, it is clear that, over those many decades, the tobacco industry’s intention has been to attract new smokers, including young children. The sooner we get on with standardising packaging, the better. [150785]

Anna Soubry
As I have said, I am precluded from giving any personal opinion, but I am sure that we will all take on board what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
Recent press reports have revealed that as many as a third of the number of cigarettes sold in the London area are contraband. Will the Minister discuss the matter with those in other Departments, in order to ensure that the objective that we are trying to achieve by standardising packaging will be achieved by that means?

Anna Soubry
I shall be meeting the relevant Home Office Minister today to discuss that very issue, but let me repeat that, far from being a counterfeiter’s dream, the packets produced in Australia would clearly be a nightmare here. A variety of colours, watermarks and holograms, and all manner of other things, can be attached to them, which is why they are described as “standardised” rather than “plain”.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
20. This decision is taking too long, and those who care about the impact of smoking on children are at a loss to understand why. Given the U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing, the delaying of the sexual health strategy and, now, the stalling on standardised packaging, I must ask whether the Government have simply given up on public health. [150783]

Anna Soubry
And it was all going so well. I will take no lectures from Labour Members, who had 13 years in which to resolve this issue, but did not do so because they knew that these were difficult and tricky matters, and that it was important for all the evidence to be considered properly. I do not know what peculiar gestures Opposition Front Benchers are making, but they are clearly not listening and understanding when it comes to stuff that they themselves must have considered when they were in government.