Health minister rejects tobacco lobbying accusations

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Health Minister Anna Soubry has dismissed accusations from Labour that the government has been influenced by lobbyists on behalf of tobacco companies.

Raising the topic at questions on 11 July 2013, Labour backbencher Paul Flynn suggested the government "has again been persuaded by the blandishments of lobbyists and instead of putting the health of the nation first they put the needs of big business first".

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott echoed his comments, pointing out that "smoking is the single biggest cause of health inequality" and asking: "Why is this government stalling?"

She added: "Is it that the business interests of Lynton Crosby matter more to these ministers than the health of the nation?"

"I'm sure Mr Crosby would be grateful for that bigging up," the minister joked.

She went on to observe: "If standardised packaging was as simple as she tries to suggest no doubt the last government would have introduced it in some way. It's a difficult and complex issue - it requires a good and healthy debate, let's bring on that debate."

Ms Soubry told MPs that the government has yet to make a decision on proposals for standardised packaging and that its response to the consultation will be published "in due course".

Later in the session Lib Dem Simon Hughes spoke about what he called the "inconsistent" approach of Labour-controlled Southwark Council in advising people not to smoke yet "invest in British-American tobacco £2.6m of pension funds".

"I'm not convinced it is just the Labour-run council who might have chosen to invest their staff pensions in this way. I strongly suspect actually all political parties are guilty of it," Ms Soubry replied.

Standardised cigarette packaging was expected by some observers to appear in the Queen's Speech, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said its absence from the speech does not mean the government has ruled out the idea.

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