Parliamentary speech about plain cigarette packaging

On Thursday 7th November 2013, I spoke in a debate in the House of Commons about plain cigarette packaging. This speech can also be read here.

Dan Jarvis MP (Barnsley Central, Labour)
Although I disagree with much of what we have just heard, it is a pleasure to follow Mr Evans. I am grateful that we, once again, have a chance to speak about the merits of standardised packaging. I also spoke on the subject in the debate that took place earlier in the year.

Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I spoke of the devastating effects that smoking-related illnesses have on families and individuals throughout our country. In the 10 months after the Government closed the consultation on this matter, no meaningful action was taken. During that time, 150,000 children will have started to smoke and, as we have heard, addiction results in the death of half its long-term users. Fifteen months have now passed, so we have had another five months during which we have had the opportunity to reduce significantly the 100,000 smoking-related deaths that take place each year. Sadly, yet again, no action has been taken by this Government.

We cannot neglect our duty to give all children and young people the best start in all areas of life. Health, education, decent housing and physical and emotional security are some of the very basics we should strive to achieve. Without them, children do not have an equal chance in life. By failing to protect children from the dangers of smoking when they are too young to make a truly informed choice, we are failing to provide each child with their very basic rights. The reform is simple and the potential gains are immense. There is a reason why smoking-related deaths are labelled as “preventable”. The question is how long, and how many lives will it take, before the Government act.

One thing is clear: standardised cigarette packaging will be introduced. This country has historically taken a strong line on the regulation of harmful products consumed by young people: in 2005, we tightened regulations on the advertising of alcohol, ensuring that advertising did not link to youth culture or irresponsible behaviour; to prevent passive smoking, we banned smoking in public places; to prevent children from taking up smoking at a young age, we made it illegal for shops to sell cigarettes to under-18s; and to prevent cigarettes from being glamorised, we ended sports sponsorship and billboard advertising.

We have put legislation in place to make adult consumers fully aware of the risks associated with smoking, launching nationwide health campaigns and offering tailored support for those who want to quit. Evidence and public support has helped successive Governments strive to improve the health of our nation. We must continue that tradition and strive to give young people every opportunity to live a healthy life. If we are to improve public health, cut preventable deaths and prevent young people from taking up a habit that could cause them significant harm, the course of action that is open to us is clear: standardised cigarette packaging, which can and would improve the health of future generations.

The evidence is clear: advertising works. If it did not, tobacco companies throughout the world would not spend huge amounts of money to reach out to new and
existing consumers. Last year. Cancer Research UK released a report on the influence that marketing has on young people. It stated:
“All 19 quantitative studies found standard packs less attractive than branded equivalents, to both adults and children”
and that
“13 qualitative studies found that standard packs consistently received lower ratings on projected personality attributes (such as ‘popular’ and ‘cool’) than branded packs”.
All that reinforces the World Health Organisation’s conclusion:
“Marketing of tobacco products encourages current smokers to smoke more, decreases their motivation to quit and urges young people to start”.

Over half of long-term smokers die from a smoking-related disease, and that amounts to more than 100,000 people each year. In my constituency, 283 people per 100,000 die each year from smoking-related diseases. An estimated 1,110 young people aged between 10 and 14 are classified as regular smokers. Given that nationally each year more than 200,000 young people under 16 are beginning to smoke, inaction amounts to nothing less than neglect. For Barnsley alone, smoking creates a bill amounting to £75.3 million each year; financially, and socially, the costs of smoking are high.

The evidence is clear, and the only thing lacking clarity in this debate is the reason behind the Government’s failure to act. By introducing standardised packaging, Britain would send an important message that we are a country that prioritises our children’s health and well-being. By failing to act, the Government are prioritising business interest over the health of young people and future generations.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North, Labour)
My hon. Friend used the word “neglect” and said that we could be neglecting our young people by failing to act. Does he agree that this is a genuine child protection issue?

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central, Labour)
I do agree with my hon. Friend. We are in this place to make judgments about what is in the interests of our constituents, and it is my judgment, as it is his and, I believe, that of the majority of hon. Members, that it is in the short-term, medium-term and long-term public interest of our constituents to introduce standardised cigarette packaging.

I therefore strongly believe that the arguments against plain packaging—standardised packaging—and the justification for the Government’s “wait and see” approach are inconsistent. First, introducing standardised packaging is not aimed at stigmatising adults who already smoke. This is not about limiting choice for adult consumers; standardised packaging does not change what is inside the packet, but is a measure to protect children who are more easily influenced by marketing. Secondly, some hon. Members have argued that introducing such a measure would limit the tobacco industry’s right to advertise. Instead, we should be asking ourselves whether, by allowing the continuation of the status quo, we are infringing on the right of every young person to have a healthy childhood, and increasing their chances of taking up a habit that could have significant health implications for them for the rest of their life.

It is regrettable that I, along with many other hon. Members, must persist in relaying the facts to a Government who, as of yet, seek to ignore the evidence in front of them. This country has been an international leader in public health policy and we should continue to be so. We will have standardised packaging at some point in the future—it is just a question of when. Fundamentally, standardised cigarette packaging is about improving the nation’s health and giving each child the best possible chance of living a healthy life. The choice is theirs when they are an adult, but the responsibility is ours now. I urge the Government to act."