One of the biggest omissions in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was plans for plain packaging for cigarettes. Although Westminster insiders told me Labour were keen for its inclusion, a more circumspect Coalition may have chosen to avoid the issue.
Both the Conservative Press Office and Number 10’s Press Office claimed to know nothing of the issue. However, the Press Office at the Department of Health at least had someone who was aware of the legislation. They confirmed Parliament has passed the Primary Legislation hurdle and Committee stage. There will be a further six weeks of consultation in the hope of finding definitive evidence before the Secondary Legislation comes into effect. MPs and Lords are allowed to challenge and amend this without a further vote.
Despite the lack of any announcement, the propagandists have still been out in force restating their credo.
On Conservative Home Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East, has been restating the case. Having lost two parents to smoking related diseases, he thinks plain packaging will dissuade teenagers from taking it up. He dismisses the freedom angle by saying: “The “right” to poison your customers is not one that we should be seeking to defend.”
On the other hand, Philip Morris International (PMI) has published a poll of five hundred police officers where 82 percent who believe it will make it easier to manufacture and sell counterfeit tobacco.
The Sun newspaper has also been doing some investigative journalism. Brian Flynn and Darren Fletcher, posing as buyers, visited Indonesian black marketer on the island of Java to see what he can offer. Many will be shocked. His factory churns out 20,000 cigarettes a minute and is “getting through 100 tons of tobacco every two to three days.”
Asked about plain packaging, he said: “I support the UK government! …We will make more money. We can make it cheaper but sell for the same price. It’s good for you, good for me.”
A month ago, I said that tobacco exporting countries such as Indonesia would retaliate on the goods and services of countries which have implemented plain packs. What I didn’t foresee is how quickly it would happen. Recently, Indonesia has threatened to retaliate by making Australian wine and Scots whisky producers apply the rules on tobacco to their alcohol bottles.
Other pressure groups have also been quick to copy tobacco. The World Obesity Federation and Consumers International (CI) have called for food to be regulated like tobacco, including pictures of diseases caused by obesity. Luke Upchurch of CI said they wanted the “same level of global treaty” as plain packaging on cigarettes.
California needs little prompting from lobbyists to act. Three days ago, the Californian Senate passed, by a majority of 75-0, compulsory health warnings on soda cans and bottles. In future, they will have to carry this warning: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
Despite this rush for regulation, two weeks ago it was announced in the Australian state of New South Wales that the “Population Health Survey shows that 16.4% of all adults in NSW smoke. Up from 14.7% rate in 2011…smoking rates have increased..”
Coming back to Britain, my analysis is that David Cameron is hemmed in by the Westminster Bubble. MPs desperate to be seen “doing something for the children”, state-funded charities, and a clearly biased civil service are all counselling him for approval.
Cameron, however, seems wise enough to know that the public are against plain packs, and UKIP and Nigel Farage are shameless in supporting smokers and drinkers.
The nanny state has suffered a temporary set-back.