Lord Rennard (LD)
My Lords, for decades, all the various weak arguments associated with the tobacco industry, opposing tobacco regulation, have been comprehensively and completely disproved by the effectiveness of that regulation at reducing the prevalence of smoking rates. Tonight, we will argue why we need to go further with measures of tobacco regulation to further reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking. I will speak briefly on Amendments 276, 277 and 278.
It is topical that, this week, mission seven of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper committed
“to narrowing the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy … between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030”.
As Ministers regularly acknowledge, half of that gap is down to smoking, so real commitment to levelling up means that immediate action must be taken on these issues.
The tobacco-related amendments in this group will assist the Government in their stated aim to reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking to below 5% by 2030. Amendment 276 requires the Secretary of State to introduce health warnings on cigarette sticks and rolling papers, in addition to the existing pack warnings. The claim that there is not yet sufficient evidence to justify the policy is a very weak excuse for inaction, and similar claims were made before the introduction of health warnings on cigarette packs. That is why the tobacco industry opposed them so strongly. These warnings on the packs are proven to be effective in reducing the prevalence of smoking tobacco, saving the lives of some of the people who were addicted to tobacco.
What is effective on the pack must be effective on the product, and 29 different studies have concluded that this would be the case. Other countries are considering this measure, and there is no reason why this country should not again lead the way.
Amendment 277 requires the Secretary of State to mandate pack inserts advising smokers about how to quit, and we know that very many smokers do want to quit. When the Government announced their smoke-free ambition in 2019, they said they believed that there was a “positive role” for such inserts, which they would consider as part of their review of regulations on exiting the EU. But the Government have inexcusably held back so far, making the lame excuse that
is supposedly required to
“establish the public health benefit”—[Official Report, Commons, Health and Care Bill Committee, 28/10/21; col. 813.]
The best research would be to introduce the inserts—at worst a harmless policy and something the tobacco companies could easily pay for from the huge profits they make from shortening the lives of half their customers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, pack inserts have been mandatory in Canada for two decades. They have been shown to enhance motivation to quit, increase quit attempts and sustain quitting tobacco.
Amendment 278 would close a loophole in current legislation. In May 2020, it was rightly recognised that menthol can hide the harsh taste of tobacco and make cigarettes easier to smoke and more appealing to children; that is why it was banned. However, a massive loophole allowed flavouring to continue. The Government’s response on this issue in the other place was that
“it is not clear how a ban on flavours would be enforced in practice, as it would include a ban on flavours that do not give a noticeable flavour to the product.”––[Official Report, Commons, Health and Care Bill Committee, 28/10/21; col. 815.]
However, this has not been a problem in either the Canadian provinces or our European neighbours, such as Germany and Finland, which have successfully implemented a complete ban on flavourings.
In the year after the ban on menthol cigarettes came into force, Japan Tobacco made more than £90 million in profits from selling 100 million packs of its so-called “menthol reimagined” brands, which, it argued, were entirely legal. The loophole must be closed. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government plan urgently to step up a gear on tobacco regulation and support the tobacco-related amendments in this group.