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.

'Polarised'

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".

Analysis

"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
    -1

    Comment number 659.

    618. Sixp
    You OK with the legalization of all class A drugs...?
    =
    Yes. Do you need a law to prevent you using heroin?
    If you do, that's your choice. You pay for the consequences or rely on charity.

    617. therealist
    It is not your business. And, you shouldn't be forced to subsidise anyone you don't want to. There's all difference in the world between compassionate charity and, coercive subsidies.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 658.

    @640

    Grow a pair !!!!!!!!!

    Stop relying on the nanny state government to do your dirty work for you. This country has a ridiculously large fraction of namby-pambies.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 657.

    Packaging most definitely affects the choice to smoke - otherwise cigarette companies wouldn't spend a fortune on it, would they?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 656.

    622.Total Mass Retain
    I note that there is an added £4.1 Billion within your reference:
    Quote
    "the loss in economic output from the deaths of smokers (£4.1 billion) "
    Unquote.
    Deaths add to the economic output via funerals and to chancellors benefit of tax death duty etc.
    Think tanks create far too many U turns and possibly pedantic.

    If Caesar had never died think of the money we'd save!
    DUH!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 655.

    "Do some people seriously think that anyone buys cigarettes because they're in a packet with a logo on them?" - yes, I do. IF manufacturers didn't think logos help sales why do you think they spend millions re-designing them periodically? Or do they have money to burn as well? Many of those influenced include children the last people most of us want to be influenced in such a negative way.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 654.

    @646

    Sadly Jeremy Lee, welcome to the internet...

    There are some good points. They're just lost in the usual ranting at the Government that plagues every HYS. We know they're useless. Now let's try debating the actual matter, not the Government for once?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 653.

    Why can't politicians be honest. Yes, they have been lobbied and the tobacco industry tries to protect its interest. Yes there are jobs at stake; but that argument was also valid for the slave trade.
    Packaging is not the main driver for people wanting to start to smoke. But carrying around a box with an advanced leg ulcer is certainly not attractive.
    But, yes, it is an individual decision.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 652.

    I have no problem with fair taxation of anything, however throughout my lifetime the UK government has been obsessed with alcohol and cigarettes on the basis that these are somehow "immoral" or "bad".

    We are right to highlight the risk to the public and regulate suppliers, but not to tax the people out of that choice beyond all other.

    Would we accept a 150% tax on fatty foods or cars?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 651.

    The entire argument for plain packs is so they don't look attractive to children. But aren't they already hidden behind closed display cases now? I don't see any need to disguise them further, and as mentioned already, a plain grey pack would be an absolute gift to the counterfeiters.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 650.

    646.Jeremy Lee
    Just now
    Perhaps those who come here purely to vent their anger should go and take some air, now that the weather's quite pleasant.

    or go and have a fag!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 649.

    Ironic the governemt thinks its 'best to wait'...makes you wonder how much 'baccy money' they've been bunged. Its a good job we have all those scrounging benefit people smoking 1000 ciggies a day to keep the profits up. So... who is in whose pockets now then, Tories? Or is that acceptable because its you lot? Whats good for the goose...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 648.

    Mike #607:

    "The cigarette manufacturers are against plain packaging for one reason and one reason only ....."


    Their altruistic commitment to Consumer Choice, surel......

    Sorry, I Knew I couldn't type that and keep a straight face, especially when talking about an industry that relies almost entirely on the addictive properties of their product!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 647.

    Following what happened with Motor-Racing, with several teams being sponsored by Tobacco brands and the trouble it caused trying to get the tobacco advertising banned from that, this wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

    Government does have a history of catering to these industries and I've seen scant evidence that mentality has changed.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 646.

    My guess is that few of the comments here will have made anyone change their mind on the subject, which is a shame.

    Among the polarised nonsense, dancing around on the moral high ground and the usual vacuous conspiracy theories, there are several coherently argued points.

    Perhaps those who come here purely to vent their anger should go and take some air, now that the weather's quite pleasant.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 645.

    I am no Tory but applaud this decision and that not to put a minimum price on alcohol. Why? Because any laws passed should be GUARANTEED to give the desired outcome and these simply will not. We also need to protect individuals' freedom to choose - similar to the school packed lunch arguement really.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 644.

    I am all for it, I can play guess the fag.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 643.

    Does Kenneth Clarke still work for (BAT) British America Tobacco?

  • Comment number 642.

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

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 641.

    "609.Sally the contrarian
    That's their choice. Respect it."

    Why? I'm paying for their choice through the benefits system. In any other area of "subsidies to the poor" you would be vocal in your objection.

    "Will you control any activity they do which is not buying food?"

    If they prioritise harmful non-essentials subsidised by me over essentials for them and their dependents, then yes I would.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 640.

    I quit smoking several years ago, but once an addict, always an addict. I, and several of my friends, in the same boat, would find it easier to stay stopped without packaging (they research branding for a reason). In Scotland, supermarkets no longer display cigarettes - what a difference it makes to your wilpower If only they would ban smoking at entrances to buildings!!!

 

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