Government rejects Labour's cigarette 'U-turn' claim


George Osborne: "I think it's right that we take our time and get the right decision"

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The government has denied claims it has caved in to the tobacco industry after plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging in England were put on hold.

A decision has been delayed so more time can be spent examining how similar plans have worked in Australia.

Health minister Anna Soubry said she "would never give into pressure" and awaiting more evidence was "sensible".

But Labour said it was a "humiliating u-turn" and questioned the input of Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby.

Health campaigners and doctors groups have criticised the move, which comes as the government confirmed plans to set a minimum price for alcohol in England are to be formally abandoned.

David Cameron was a vocal advocate of minimum pricing as a way of tackling drink-related health and social problems but he appears to have been defeated by ministers who feared it would not work and prove unpopular with voters.

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright suggested the Conservatives were trying to jettison potentially unpopular policies in order to focus on their core economic message in the run up to the next election.

Ministers had also been keen to go ahead with the cigarette packaging proposal, designed to discourage young people from smoking by making the packets less attractive, after the Department of Health held a consultation last year.

Under the plans, the standardised packets would all be the same colour, with the same font, and carry a prominent graphic warning.


But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government wanted to see how the policy had worked in Australia, the first country to introduce plain packaging last year, before making a "final decision".


"The evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers."

That was the view of Andrew Lansley, then Health Secretary in 2010.

Since then the government has held a consultation, before which it said it was open-minded.

Now the idea will be put on pause, with no timetable for making a final decision.

Ministers will say they want to see how the policy works in Australia.

Labour says the government just wants to "please its friends in big business".

And with the opposition targeting the Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby, they will seek to make this an argument not just about public health, but lobbying.

He said a public consultation on the issue, the details of which have been published on Friday, had shown that the debate was "highly polarised" with "strong views" about the effectiveness of the policy on both sides.

In an urgent question in the Commons, shadow health minister Dianne Abbott said the "disgraceful" announcement showed the government had "caved in to big business" and the "health of the nation has been sacrificed to the interests of big tobacco".

"We have to ask on this side of the House what happened," she added. "We suspect that Lynton Crosby happened."

Mr Crosby's lobbying firm Crosby Textor was employed by British American Tobacco in Australia, but the company said the lobbyists did not work on its campaign against plain packaging there.

Asked what evidence Labour had of Mr Crosby's direct involvement, Mrs Abbott said she was not saying "he is influencing public health decisions per se" but suggested he had told senior Tories that this and other policies would give them "problems with UKIP".

Start Quote

The idea that public health is something which should be scraped off the boat as some election strategists have announced I think is entirely wrong”

End Quote Sarah Wollaston Conservative MP

But health minister Anna Soubry told MPs this was a "complete red herring" since Mr Crosby had not had any conversation with a health minister on the issue.

And No 10 said Mr Crosby had had "no involvement" in the decision and had never lobbied David Cameron on the issue.

The decision was criticised by Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, who said many advances in public health - such as the ban on smoking in public places - were controversial at the time but now commanded overwhelming public support.

"My view unfortunately is that it's all about election strategy, she told the BBC. "The idea that public health is something which should be scraped off the boat as some election strategists have announced I think is entirely wrong."

But Conservative colleague Peter Bone said "evidence-based" policy making was right and changes should not be "rushed through".

'Key tool'

Cancer Research UK claimed the decision would cost lives while the British Medical Association said it was "deeply disappointing" since packaging was a "key tool" for the industry to attract young smokers.

"This is another example of a government which claims to have prioritised public health putting vested interests over those of the public," Dr Vivienne Nathanson, its director of professional activities, said.

But pro-smokers' group Forest said ministers had "listened to ordinary people" and it was good news for those who "believe in consumer freedom and are opposed to excessive regulation".

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association said the government should look at alternative measures, such as tackling the black-market trade and sales to under-aged smokers.

"Plain packaging would have been an assault on UK business in the midst of difficult economic times," it said. "Plain packs would be far easier to copy and would have therefore been a gift to the criminal gangs behind the increasing illegal trade in tobacco."

The Scottish government says it is "still committed" to introducing plain packaging and is expected to press ahead with its own plans.

The Welsh government said it was "disappointed" by the delay and would consider "the way forward" while the Northern Ireland executive said it would like to see a "UK-wide" response to the issue.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    3 Minutes ago
    I cant believe it I'm finally first !!! YES!!!!!!

    ..... a day late and a dollar short

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The "plain packaging" issue only applies to packages being both sold and contain tobacco products. The cigarette companies have got round this in the past by giving away free empty cardboard sleeves that the plain packet fits into in the exact same colours and design of the previous cigarette packets. This is perfectly legal as the sleeves are not sold and also do not contain tobacco products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Of course this has nothing to do with Kenneth Clarke's business connections with the tobacco industry, has it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Lets face it, tobacco got banned before.
    It still got smuggled into the country and the crowns coffers suffered for it.
    Now the UK is going to be skint for the next 20 years, taxes from tobacco sales are going to be much needed.

    Money talks, morals walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Big business such as cigarette manufacture and the subsequent healthcare for those dying from smoking are big business.
    Since the NHS is being privatised in order to make large profits from those too vulnerable to go elsewhere it makes sense for a Tory government to dither, duck and dive. You just cant trust the Tories when a profit is there to grab!
    This is a disgrace and shameful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    What a stupid argument. Plain packaging will just make it easier for fakes to get in to the market which will end up costing the health service more. It was a stupid idea by an idiot that doesn't have the first clue about why people take up smoking. In any case the taxes brought in from smokers more than covers the cost of smoking related diseases to the health service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Tobacco provides a lot of money to the government through taxes.

    If you wish to have even less jobs by all means ban it.

    People who says it costs the NHS a lot of money, well guess what, they provides jobs as well.

    People seem to think they can have it all, you are a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The Tories and the tobacco industry are old bedfellows.Maggie started working for them once she was ousted from No.10!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The only 'jobs' downing street are worried about is the cushy non-exec posts they will be gifted for selling us out to big business.


    And again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government wanted to see how the policy had worked in Australia."

    Jeremy Hunt using a particularly thin excuse there for his usual toadying to his corporate cronies. The sooner we see the back of this odious man the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    'Labour wants an explanation about the "broken promise" '

    Labour & the Tories are full of broken promises.

    Yet they seem to do very little about resolving them.

    Instead of playing the blame game why not fix the issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Gutless government - again !!
    Interesting that the government wants UK as the banking centre of the world yet when it floats the Royal Mail it has to use Swiss and U.S. banks to handle it.
    My point? - this government is just pushed around by their friends in business and they aren't bright enough to know what is going on.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This will be based on Tobacco money paid to Conservative Party Funds as in Maggies time she backed down too when she realised without tobacco money the Conservative Party would be SKINT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Tory hypocrites get hysterical about Trade unions which openly support Labour while always caving in to the Tobacco barons who secretly have huge influence with the Tories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    What's wrong with waiting to see how it pans out in other countries? Nothing that's what. People just like to have a hate campaign about anything despite there being no evidence and yet you are the stupid ones for disagreeing with them apparently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I always pick my cigarette brand by its super cool packaging!!!! honest.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Really Labour?. Such short memories considering Bernie Eccleston. Still when you have no policies and those that you do have are 100% Tory than what else would you expect from Milliband and co.


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