Ban on Display of Tobacco products

The inference in recent news reports that I have supported local tobacco retailers because my stepdaughter works for the campaign to prevent the banning of displays of tobacco products could not be more wrong. As is the suggestion that I have done something wrong by not declaring an interest in the House. So far as I am aware my stepdaughter's employment presents no pecuniary interest to me.

In 1987, when my stepdaughter was 5 years old, I - along with the late Ted Leadbitter, former MP for Hartlepool, and Jack Thomson, former MP for Wansbeck - discussed in the Strangers' Bar the idea of setting up a 'Pipe Smokers' group in the House. This was because the new intake of MPs included many who wanted to ban smoking completely from the House. Something we pipe smokers at the time felt was intolerant and uncompromising. The group is now 22 years old and I am still a member.

In 2006, long before my stepdaughter ever contemplated changing her then job and being recruited by the campaign, I spoke on the floor of the House and elsewhere in support of Working Men's Clubs being excluded from the ban on smoking in public places on the grounds that they were 'private places' whose rules and regulations are set by their members and they should be allowed to decided if smoking in those 'private' places should be banned. At that time many clubs had decided just that - as was their right.

So I raise the issue not because of my relationship to any campaigner but because of representations made to me by constituents, the club movement and my own observations.

The Health lobby, as is their right and I respect them for their efforts, continues the fight against the 'promotion' of tobacco products - but does not, in my view, do the honest thing. If tobacco is as poisonous as they insist why do they not campaign for a complete ban on the sale or consumption of tobacco products. Instead they continue to accept it is a legal product but try their best to make life as difficult as possible for smokers - sometimes with dire consequences for legitimate businesses and jobs.

Now, I am not a smoker - apart from the odd cigar when on holiday - and I think it right to persuade youngsters not to take it up, and to encourage others off it. I do not enjoy cigarette smoke wafting in my direction either, but so long as smoking is legal I believe a degree of tolerance is necessary and facilities should be allowed for smokers to use off the streets, provided proper controls are in place and staff are protected.

The idea that hiding tobacco products away under the counter will prevent young people from taking up smoking, when they can plainly see groups of people gathered in the streets outside smoking everyday and night, is ludicrous. There is no evidence from countries that have tried it that this works, indeed the Prime Minister of New Zealand recently pulled a proposal to ban tobacco displays on the basis that there is no evidence to show it has any noticeable effect.

If the current proposal in the Health Bill is carried what will happen in my view is that many small corner shops will suffer by the cost of renovating their premises and the loss of trade for a legal product - just as many pubs and clubs have closed up and down the country as a result of the total ban on smoking inside their premises.

On a final note, Ailsa Rutter of the 'FRESH' campaign alleges in the newspapers that she has debated this many times with me and I failed to mention my stepdaughter worked for the retail alliance. As a matter of clarity, I am not aware I have ever met Ms Rutter let alone having discussed or debated the issue with her.

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB