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 479.

    I'm constantly telling my kids to never smoke. I made the mistake of smoking for over 20 years, and how I wish I never did.
    How about putting the price up of twenty fags up to a tenner, and charge the manufacturers for a loss of life ratio levy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    uturn? Beeb who cares about a uturn.

    This is a prime example of illegal lobbying and its right infront of your face. Why is nothing being done about this illegal behaviour????

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    A pity Labour didn't concentrate on working with the unions and protecting workers pay and conditions. That is why the labour party was formed and not to be a slightly lighter blue Tory party. Far too much interference by health freaks who should focus on the damage caused by vehicle exhausts in cities, and the connection with that and the rise in asthma and other related illnesses!

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    Couldn't care less about fag packets.

    About 10 years ago I noticed a link and since then 3 of 12 people I've come across with cancer were smokers. 10 of the 12 wore extremely strong perfume and that's the link I noticed. The other 2 were both breast cancer. Guess what I think is the biggest cause of cancer but the politicians wont do anything about that because it makes them too much money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Packaging wont stop anyone, the massive cost is what's stopped the vast majority of my friends who have recently quit....more tax please Dave. (christ I hate that I would say that)

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    If anyone other than Labour were crowing about it, I'd probably listen.

    But since they themselves don't listen, why should we?

    The political party that changed Britain forever - for the worse - is once again trying to tell others how to live and how to govern.

    I don't like the Tories - but just why are Labour given the oxygen of publicity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    466. uʍop ǝpısdn
    FCC have now banned smoking of e-cigarettes on my station platform.

    It seems the anti-smoking brigade are now afraid of a bit of harmless steam.

    Now I have to stand outside the station, and smoke real cigarettes. Enjoy walking through that cloud all of you.


    Enjoy puffing on your fiery dummy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    "spam spam spam spam
    the WHOLE population is GUILTY of indirect POISONING of others"

    But in almost all cases we're all doing that to one another in order to gain overall positive benefits. Smoking has no benefits whatsoever (except to service an addiction) to the consumer and its impact on others is entirely negative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Plain packaging has nothing to do with children. Children should not be sold cigarettes. It's a straw-man argument.

    If the governments of the UK want to reduce smoking, leave vaping alone and see the smokers shift to a healthier alternative.

    Of course, the politicians, the businesses, the campaign groups and the rest are scared of vaping. There's a lot of profit in cigarettes. Hypocrites!

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Junk food and sugary drinks are also bad for your health, should they get plain packaging too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Well we can't lose the tax the sale of cigarettes creates now can we? :)

    Remember the government offering free car tax for low emission vehicles?, where does the replacement money come from?.........nowhere

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    who has been got at with a big bung?

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    That's why you should elect MPs that support your views
    I select an MP who is not a consultant, US lackie, lobby vegetable or go get me one. Don't care which party.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    FCC have now banned smoking of e-cigarettes on my station platform.

    It seems the anti-smoking brigade are now afraid of a bit of harmless steam.

    Now I have to stand outside the station, and smoke real cigarettes. Enjoy walking through that cloud all of you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Neither myself, nor anyone i've ever met or heard of, started smoking because of the package design. Plain packaging is a completely baseless move with no back-up evidence. I agree entirely that we need to stop kids from taking up smoking, but let's do it through proven methods such as more education and less exposure in the home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Back in 1960, at university, we had to look at a film showing a man having one lung removed due to cancer from smoking. That lung was a black slimy mess, and his other lung wasn't much better. Put me off smoking right there and then. Never touched a cigarette since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    If this pernicious idea eventually makes it on to the statute books, I dare say we'll see a revival of cigarette cases.

    Smokers should buy antique silver cases now, while they're cheap. Or we could wait until cigarette manufacturers produce their own branded cases - which would surely be lawful if sold separately.

    Strong brands will always defeat ill-considered populist laws. And so they should.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.


    Please tell me what part of your lifestyle does NOT poison other people.

    Let me tell you NONE.

    EVERYTHING you use/eat, requires energy, energy production also produces MASSES of poisons

    Depending on your lifestyle choices relates to how much YOU indirectly poison other people, so GET off your high horse, the WHOLE population is GUILTY of indirect POISONING of others

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    One small step away from the full Nanny State - had it been passed what next, plain packaging on pies, cakes, sweets, cream cakes etc - when will the Govt stop trying to interfere in absolutely every aspect of our lives?

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Pitiful showing from the Government, this.


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