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"

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    @147.John Bligh, they are also hidden from plain sight behind doors or blinds in 99% of shops, so I dont see how people can see the packaging.

    Its also been noted that the majority of poeple start smoking not because of the package but because of peer pressure, they get introduced to a brand by those peers and then stick with it, maybe varying the sub brand (Light/menthol).

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    150.JohnGammon - ".....But it's just as important to educate small children in schools about health so they're reluctant to start smoking in the first place....."

    That is already done & it isn't enough on its own. This idea is predicated on what evidence does exist suggesting it will help drive down smoking rates further.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    I agree with the many comments already on packaging will not make a difference as those that wish to smoke will smoke as its peer pressure more than a packet design. Plus one weird thought I had in conversation with friends that smoke is that a plain pack may turn into a craze where you doodle on your pack as its a blank canvas!!

    The counterfeiting argument is a good one also

  • Comment number 156.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    The cigarette companies were actually elated when cigarette adverts and sponsorships were banned. Advertising and pack fronts had little effect on whether a person actually started smoking, but helped to maintain market share against other brands. The ban just led to a level playing field for all, without ad expenditure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Plain packaging will do nothing to protect children – The extra perceived danger will just make it more enticing. It will just make counterfeiting easier and make life difficult for retailers. Governments need to stop listening to self serving lobbyists like cancer “research” UK who should stop spending so much on lobbying and restricting people’s rights and spend more on proper research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    What nonsense! smokers smoke the content NOT the packet! this will not make any difference at all to the determined smokers, but I suppose trivia like this keeps the peoples minds of the REAL issues like MPs pay, wars costing a fortune both in money & human lives! MPs should be banned, they are the most dangerous, stupid & selfish things on the planet causing more deaths than smoking or drinking !

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.


    Curious, despite the number of smokers declining the number of lung cancer cases has steadily increased, likewise for asthma. Might there another more direct cause ... perhaps vehicle emissions?!?


  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Too much nannying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Initiatives such as this are always put forward as though they're magic cures. People will still be buying cigarettes, though the cigs will be clearly marginalised as a product. But it's just as important to educate small children in schools about health so they're reluctant to start smoking in the first place. Bet you practically all smokers started because their parents did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    I agree with the plain packs suggestion - whether this actually works or not is up for debate however as part of an overall strategy to combat children taking up smoking why not do it. If it works, great, if it doesnt, then nothing lost. Labour banging on about caving in however is a bit rich, they were in government for years and didn't do anything about it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Two HYS on government "policies" today - both policies clearly being run by commercial interests.

    So why do we need Hunt (this one) and Gove (school dinners)?

    In fact, why do we need 650 useless time-serving control freaks at all?

    It would save money (Tories love that!) just to let big business run things openly. That way, if we didn't agree we could boycott their products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    It's hard to believe in this day of attractive packaging in almost every aspect of commerce that this measure will make any difference. Have you looked at cigarette packets lately? They feature ugly 'Smoking Kills' notices on one side and equally off-putting photos on the other. Compared to most packaging around, they are hardly a 'pull'. We should concentrate on improved education programs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    48.sayitso "So let me get this straight , they are going to ban electronic cigarettes because of quality issues"

    More accurately it's because there is less tax on them. The tobacco barons have realised they missed out on e-cigs but now they want "in" Remember the Yes Minister sketch with the cig health costs to the NHS versus tax synopsis?

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    This decision has absolutely nothing to do with Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke having recently been deputy chairman of British American Tobacco.
    None at all.

    Yours, 'Dave' Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    99. james
    Tobacco Barons and immoral politicians win again. Some day real democracy will come and these hideous toads WILL be made accountable.
    Ah so democracy is getting what you want. Got it now, no wonder it doesn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    As someone who has bought counterfeit cigarettes from a shop that was later fined for selling said fakes, I could not tell the difference.

    The packaging was a 100% duplicate copy.

    The counterfeiting argument carries no weight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Poor show - let's see who becomes a non-exec director of a tobacco firm in the next few years. Or who already is. We know of at least one who are/have been on the board of BAT.

    Do we still have any investigative journalists to look at this - or are have they all been moved to the highly important task of stalking "celebrities"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    middle-class lefties smoky mantras "ban smoking" "decriminalize cannabis". Of course packaging encourages smokers it's class status or wanna be class status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    As a ex smoker who was smoking from the age of 16 and gave up six years ago, I think that having plain packaging for cigarette packaging would make it a lot easier for forgers to make and sell illegal cigarettes,
    As most countries in the world sell cigarettes a lot cheaper than the UK due to tax and duty being less. It is already costs this country because smugglers bringing in cheap cigarettes.


Page 42 of 49


More Politics stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.