Plain packaging for cigarettes is plain bonkers and simply will not work, costing jobs and hampering the smaller newsagents around the country. I am convinced that in an attempt to pander to the politically correct lobby we are shooting ourselves in the foot and going against the core Tory ideals that are at the root of my party and are the reason I joined it 40 years ago.
I feel somewhat taken aback that a policy that hits at intellectual property rights was sneaked into the “fag” end of an adjournment debate without the proper scrutiny that a statement like this deserves. I welcome the free vote, which I assume extends to ministers, but the fact is that it will pass the Commons as Labour and Lib Dem nanny-staters will push it through.
The vote that takes place will not be on the facts of the issue, otherwise we wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. We already know that the policy has led to no decrease in smoking in Australia, but it has given a field day to illicit traders in the bulk of Australian States. It is also simpler to reproduce the packs in order to fool people into thinking they are buying legitimate cigarettes, thus profoundly damaging Treasury revenues, and possibly resulting in an even more dangerous product hitting the streets.
As a former newsagent, I recognise the investment companies put into their brands. Coca Cola is recognisable throughout the world because of the branding the company has invested in the product. Can you imagine what would happen if overnight this was stripped from them? They would rightly challenge it in court. I’m not a huge fan of the European concept of ‘Human Rights’, but one of them is the right to your possessions – and this would include your property rights.
Also, where does this sort of thing end? I know many people who believe that consumption of certain food groups is harmful to your health and should either be banned or heavily regulated. What a super middle ground if the product could be stripped of all identity.
I often have school groups visit the House of Commons, with many of the students seeming to favour this sort of draconian move. I like to ask them how prevalent ecstasy use is in the UK, and when they tell me that it is widespread I ask them to describe the packaging.
I don’t expect such an argument to carry any weight when it comes to a vote in the Commons, and I also expect the Government to brace itself to contest an expensive intellectual property court case. I would also expect every other manufacturer of any product identified through its branding to be very nervous.
Small retailers struggling already with closed displays will spend longer searching for a product which looks like all the other plain packaged products. As their backs are turned shoplifting will go through the roof.
If a tobacco company wants to introduce a new brand or a new entrant wishes to come in it is now almost impossible. Competition is something I cherish as a Tory and this is now going to be hammered.
Common sense should prevail not common packaging. I do hope the Government thinks long and hard before they step closer to a stupid policy which attacks the very core of our freedoms.
Nigel Evans is a Conservative MP and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons