MPs clash over ban on display of tobacco products in shops

June 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm 1 comment

by Tony Grew

Andy Burnham made his first appearance at the despatch box as Secretary of State for Health yesterday.

He was speaking at the start of the Second Reading of the Health Bill.

MPs clashed over plans to prohibit the display of tobacco products at the point of sale and create powers to control the sale of tobacco from vending machines.

“As first days in a new job go, there must have been easier ones than this, but it is very good to be back and to be supported by an excellent new or nearly new team, in time to bring to the House a Bill that I can modestly claim to have had some hand in creating,” he told the House.

He said the bill “begins a new era in the national health service, in which quality becomes the focus of everything that the NHS does.

Mr Burnham argued that since Labour came to power in 1997 the NHS has been “transformed.”

“100 new hospitals. NHS finances are secure, with more than a £1.7 billion surplus and only six trusts in deficit.

“Hospital-acquired infections are being tackled, with MRSA rates down 65 per cent. on 2003 figures. We now have the shortest waits in the history of the NHS, moving from the scandal of 18-month waits for operations to the landmark pledge that all patients are now seen in 18 weeks.”

The bill places a duty on all providers of NHS services to have regard to the NHS constitution, which Mr Burnham called “a landmark document.”

“It sets out the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff, bringing together existing legal rights with commitments to deliver the standards of service that patients can expect from the national health service,” he said.

The bill places a legal duty on all NHS providers to provide annual quality accounts, in the same way that they are required to publish financial accounts.

It also brings forward measures that will enable the NHS to pilot direct payments, as part of a wider programme of piloting personal health budgets.

The bill also establishes a new regime for NHS providers that have been performing badly despite interventions by primary care trusts, the strategic health authority or the appropriate regulatory body.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon said the bill rightly proposes new measure to protect children from tobacco and those measures should be extended to the risk from tattooists and piercers.

“Currently, there are no minimum age limits for children having piercing of their genitals, navels, nipples, mouth, nose, eyebrows and ears,” she said.

“There are also no minimum training qualifications and no skills qualifications for those who carry out such piercing.”

Mr Burnham said he would meet with her to discuss her concerns.

David Taylor said the “powerful and influential” tobacco lobby “challenges causation, manufactures uncertainty and hides behind third-party organisations—Save Our Shop is funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

“As the very last resort, it will drag its feet against the inevitable—what Philip Morris calls throwing grit into the gears of regulatory reform.”

Tory MP Philip Davies said the proposed ban on the display of tobacco products in shops is “a triumph for the nanny state.”

“The most recent evidence that the Department of Health itself commissioned on this subject showed that brand awareness was not a factor in influencing young people to smoke compared with other social, economic and family background factors,” he said.

“He said that he does not want to damage small businesses, and that is reassuring, but his Department says that it will cost at least £1,000 a store to implement this proposal. It is gesture politics of the worst kind.”

Mr Burnham said that since 1997 the government had taken several measures to restrict the promotion of tobacco.

“At every point in that journey, the voices from the Opposition Benches have cried, “Nanny state!”

“Almost every time that a sensible measure has been proposed to tackle smoking, especially under-age smoking, we have heard those voices. If we had listened to them, we would not have reduced the proportion of people who smoke from 28 per cent. in 1997 to 21 per cent. in 2007.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley welcomed the new Secretary of State.

“When he went to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, he said that it was his dream job,” he said.

“I am sorry that we may have the necessity of turning his short tenure at the Department of Health into a bit more of a nightmare, but I hope that he will maintain the merit of consistency.”

Mr Lansley also paid tribute to former Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, who is now Home Secretary and is tipped to succeed Gordon Brown should the Prime Minister stand down.

“Labour Members may be wishing that the new Home Secretary occupies his post for only a short period before he goes on to other things,” he said.

“When Kirsty Young asked the duly modest right hon. Gentleman whether he thought he had leadership potential, he said:

“I don’t think I would have been good enough, frankly. I don’t think I’ve got the capabilities.”

“Just a word to the right hon. Gentleman: that did not seem to hold back the present incumbent, so why should it hold him back?”

Mr Lansley told MPs the proposed constitution would not make the NHS independent.

“What we are being offered in the Bill is not, in truth, a constitution, but that is what we ought to be offered,” he said.

“The new Secretary of State wanted greater operational independence for the NHS and believed that it would be important; it is precisely what he said was needed, but it is not enshrined in the constitution in the Bill.

“In effect, for the NHS, the constitution still enshrines the same principle of the legislative relationship between the NHS and the Secretary of State, which is that the NHS is at any moment whatever the Secretary of State chooses to make it. The Secretary of State can change the definition with the stroke of a pen—literally.”

He urged the Health Secretary to scrap NHS performance targets.

“If he believes, as he said in the past that he does, that people in the NHS felt frustrated by the weight of central top-down targets and bureaucracy, he should let go,” he said.

“Let him take away the four-hour target and see what can be arrived at by way of a series of measures of quality of emergency care in emergency departments agreed between commissioners and hospitals. Let us see whether the result is an improvement or a reduction in quality of care. My belief is that it would be an improvement.”

On the contentious issue of tobacco, Mr Lansley was cautious.

“When the Bill comes back here on Report, I hope that the Government, like us, will give Members a free vote,” he said.

“Hon. Members will well recall that, in itself, the giving of a free vote energised the debate about the ban on smoking in public places; in part, it led to the conclusion that we came to, rather than the one that would otherwise have been imposed by Ministers.

“I hope that, like us, the Labour party will give a free vote on these issues relating to public health and allow the evidence to determine Members’ views on the subject.

“Although we will have a free vote, I should say that we on the Conservative health team strongly believe, like the Secretary of State, that smoking is still the greatest avoidable cause of premature mortality and that the rate of new smoking among young people is still far too high.”

Lib Dem health spokesman Sandra Gidley told MPs:

“I want to put on record my personal baggage in this regard. My father died of lung cancer. He had never smoked in his life, but he was surrounded by smokers.

“He was also a newsagent. In thinking through these issues, I have looked carefully at all sides of the argument, but when it comes to a clampdown on smoking, I sometimes have to restrain myself from being a fag fascist.”

She said she regretted the bill does not propose a comprehensive tobacco strategy.

“Instead, we are faced with a fairly random set of initiatives. The big idea is the prohibition of the display of tobacco products at the point of sale.

“It is not being sold as something that will reduce sales in general, however. It seems to be being touted as a measure to reduce sales to children, but the evidence that it would have that effect is weak. If there were strong evidence that that could be achieved, we would be tempted to support these moves.”

Winding up for the government, Phil Hope, Minister of State at the Department of Health, said:

“There are many aspects of the Bill. Its overall purpose is to help the NHS achieve the high ambitions of the next stage review.

“We will review the effects of the new requirements on restricting the sale of cigarettes from vending machines; if the requirements are not successful, we will move to ban cigarette vending machines altogether.”

Mr Hope told MPs they have “a particular responsibility to protect children and young people from taking up smoking, and that will ensure that young people from all backgrounds have a fair chance to enjoy a healthy life.”

“Tobacco marketing through point-of-sale display is no longer acceptable, because we know that it promotes positive attitudes towards smoking, encourages people to start smoking, prompts impulse buying and undermines efforts to quit,” he said.

“The Opposition’s denial on that issue is utterly bizarre, because the evidence exists for the taking of action to remove the display of tobacco products in shops in order to help protect children and young people from the marketing of them and the harm that smoking causes.

“The Opposition’s proposals on proxy purchasing and plain packaging are, if I may say so, a bit of a smokescreen for their failure to address the issues.”

MPs approved the Second Reading – Ayes 292, Noes 182. The bill will now go to committee.



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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Stewart Brock  |  June 11, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    In recent years the tobacco companies have paid for and installed bigger and ‘better’ display gantries to highlight their products, using special lighting and display promotions. The packs have also been ‘sexed up’, to coin a phrase! Is it reasonable to display an acknowledged lethal product in such a glamorised way, which will clearly appeal to young people?

    Let us take another lethal and legal product, also subject to age restriction; the knife. Would MPs object if knife companies set up displays of various combat knives, highlighting special design features on the packaging, and making use of illuminated highlight boxes? In a specialist shop perhaps one could accept it. But how about in the convenience stores serving local communities or supermarkets? Of course, only over 18’s could buy them, not children, but would it not create a desire amongst young teens to own one of those knives? Would it not lead to proxy purchasing on their behalf? Would it not lead inevitably to more death and injury?

    I submit that it would, and that if it happened MPs and communities would be up in arms about it. Just because those displays are already in place for tobacco does not make it right. Cigarettes kill far, far more people than knives, and the death is usually much slower and more painful.

    MPs, please support the display ban proposals, so that children and teenagers do not see tobacco as normal when they visit the sweet shop.


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