Jarrow MP accepted expenses-paid Chelsea Flower Show trip from tobacco firms ahead of cigarette packaging vote

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn

AN MP accepted a hospitality package to the Cheslea Flower Show from tobacco industry representatives before voting against plain cigarette packaging, an investigation has revealed.

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn was treated to a trip to the horticultural show by Japan Tobacco Industries (JTI) whose brands include Camel, Winston, Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut.

He should look at the number of people dying every year compared with the number of jobs.

Mr Hepburn, whose constituency includes Boldon and Cleadon, said he felt it was appropriate to accept hospitality because of jobs the industry has generated in his constituency even though the area has one of the worst rates of smoking related deaths in the country.

“I have tobacco interests in my constituency that employ several hundred staff,” he said.

Mr Hepburn was one of 38 MPs who received a total of £60,000 of industry hospitality since changes to packets were first proposed in 2010.

More than half serve constituencies where the number of smoking related deaths exceeds the national average, an investigation by the British Medical Journal found.

All of the hospitality received was properly declared.

But Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said Mr Hepburn, or any other MP “does not have to accept hospitality in order to act on behalf of employees in his constituency”

“The jobs are almost non-existent now,” she said. “He should look at the number of people dying every year compared with the number of jobs.”

Other gifts accepted by the MPs, which included 29 Conservatives, eight Labour and one independent, included tickets to Wimbledon, a Paul McCartney concert, test matches at The Oval and the opera.

It is not illegal for members of parliament or peers to accept gifts as long as they are declared.

However, the World Health Organisation’s convention on Tobacco Control states parties should “interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products”.

It also bans the acceptance of gifts or hospitality.

When plain packaging was put to vote in the House of Commons in March, 20 of the 38 MPs who had received hospitality voted against the measure.