Plain Packs Pretence

Over on DP I signed one of those standard Say No To Plain Packs emails a week back. It got sent to my MP. It read:

Dear X

As one of your constituents I would like to express my opposition to the proposal to put tobacco products in plain (standardised) packaging.

This was not included in any election manifesto in 2010 and was rejected by the previous government in 2008 on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support such a policy.

Nothing has happened since then that could possibly justify a change of policy under the current government. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Police officers, retired and serving, have expressed concern that plain packaging will encourage organised crime. Their views are shared by many small retailers, wholesalers, packaging companies and design agencies who may be forced to cut jobs if plain packaging is introduced.

Public opinion too is firmly against the proposal. The public consultation on plain packaging attracted over 700,000 responses, HALF A MILLION of them OPPOSED to plain packaging.

Given this overwhelming result I hope that you too will declare your opposition to this measure.

I would be grateful too if you would ask the relevant ministers to consider in the final review:
(a) the likely impact on counterfeiting and the corresponding increase in organised crime;
(b) the potential loss of tax revenue; and
(c) the full impact on business, including local shops and packaging companies.

Finally, I fully understand that government has a role to play improving public health and protecting the most vulnerable in society, especially children. There is however no credible evidence that packaging encourages children to start smoking and to argue otherwise is to fly in the face of common sense.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely


A couple of days back I got a reply. It read:

Thank you for your email.

Smoking has a devastating impact on the health and well-being in our communities, causing nearly 80,000 deaths a year in England. Reducing smoking rates represents a huge opportunity for public health which is why I am pleased that the Government has fully committed to this issue.

This includes exploring options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging and why it has recently carried out a public consultation on whether policy action to standardise the packaging of tobacco products has the potential to bring public health benefits over and above those expected to accrue from existing tobacco control initiatives. I realise that the standardisation of tobacco products has prompted some concerns over its impact on businesses, tax revenue and counterfeit cigarettes. I want to assure you that the consultation was also aimed at understanding any other effects that the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging might have. Through the consultation, the Department actively sought views on whether introducing standardised packaging would have trade, competition or legal implications, costs or benefits for retailers or manufacturers, implications for the illicit tobacco (both smuggled and counterfeit), implications for cross-border shopping or any other unintended consequences. An impact assessment was also included in the consultation, with a range of specific questions inviting further evidence to better understand the likely costs and benefits. To inform responses and subsequent policy-making, the Department of Health commissioned a systematic review of the evidence on plain tobacco packaging. This review was undertaken by academics at the University of Stirling, the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Education, London. The resulting report was peer-reviewed in accordance with the Department of Health’s research Governance Framework. The report represents the work and views of the authors, not necessarily those of the Department of Health. The Department has received many thousands of consultation responses and is currently carefully collating and analysing these. A summary report of the consultation responses will be published in due course. The Government has an open mind on this issue and any decisions to take further policy action on tobacco packaging will be taken only after full consideration is given to consultation responses, evidence and other relevant information.

The Government has an open mind on this issue? I bet it doesn’t. I bet that plain packaging  is a done deal, agreed with the WHO and EU years ago, and the ‘public consultation’ is a complete sham. But I have an open mind about this – much like the government does.

Anyway, what puzzles me a bit about this is that my MP voted against the smoking ban:

Voted very strongly against the hunting ban.
Voted moderately for laws to stop climate change.
Voted strongly against a smoking ban.
Voted strongly against introducing ID cards.
Voted moderately against more EU integration.

So why is he sending me all this tripe, given that he voted against the smoking ban?

Perhaps the answer is that it wasn’t him that sent this email, because the email came from his office, and most likely his parliamentary secretary . And so the secretary probably got out some standard response, and pressed “Send”.

Or perhaps it was him, and he’s changed his mind, and wishes he had voted for the smoking ban. Because of the chiiildren. Or something.

Or maybe he’s being kept bound and trussed in a dungeon under Westminster, while some antismoker impersonates him.

How should I know?


About Frank Davis

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32 Responses to Plain Packs Pretence

  1. lysistratatheoriginal says:

    You’re right. You sent a formulaic letter. You got a formulaic letter back. Of course it wasn’t bloody composed by your MP: it’s too full of standard bland cliches. Would be interesting (well, depressing actually) to see how many others get letters back from their MPs including the same phrases. And yes, my conclusion is that Sir Humphrey Appleby has won this round.

  2. roobeedoo2 says:

    You’ve opened a dialogue – ask him.

    I did the same with my MP (also voted against the smoking ban). I got a reply from his office today asking to give my home address to make sure I was his constituent. My address was stated on the email, directly under my name! If he comes back with the same stock, cr@p response you got, I will challenge him on it.

    In the plain packs email you can add your own comment. I said I was ashamed a Conservative administration would consider bringing in such a stupid law and that I would be voting UKIP if it comes into force.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I added a similar comment, saying I used to vote Lib Dem, but was voting for UKIP now. And it’true. I do.

      • roobeedoo2 says:

        When I replied to confirm my address, I told the PA that I was disappointed that I didn’t get a reply from my MP to an earlier (2010) letter I’d written to him (although he was a Whip at the time so I wasn’t to surprised when he didn’t respond – he got shuffled out in September, he he). Hopefully now he’ll be fully focused on retaining his seat, although it is pretty safe. Nevertheless, if I don’t get a decent response from him (or legislation goes through and he votes for it) I’ve decided I’m going to actively campaign against him. Taking part in the ISIS survey last summer has given me confidence and Leg Iron has given me some ideas…

  3. Junican says:

    I have also done something similar, although I have had no reply as yet, apart from a standard acknowledgement.
    If we are serious, and I think that we should be, we should pester our MPs to death with REAL letters. It is OK to respond to a Forest initiative, and I applaud the Forest initiative, but the Forest initiative stopped at the beginning!
    To be honest, I despair.

    • Junican says:

      Does Forest have at least one ‘member’ in each constituency in England? Forget Wales and Scotland for the time being. England is the controller because of the strength of the English People. I would love to receive an email from Forest saying, “You are a voter in the Bolton South East constituency. Pester your MP. There are also five others in your constituency who are members of Forest”
      The creation of ‘A Tribe’ is important. Tobacco Control in England is a tiny tribe with a big gob and a megaphone paid for by Zealots who operate under false pretences and steal taxpayers’ money.

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Or he has been bought off Frank! Ive seen politicians who were your friend on the subject one day and the next time they see you there pale white as a ghost in fear………………Coulda been when I was threatening to gather evidence of lobbying activity with federal grant laden advocates having illegal meetings with politicians…………..Ya that was probably it.

  5. waltc says:

    Or it’s a standard form letter meant to appease both sides of the issue ( with something for the “smoking must be eradicated” side and the hedged crumb of “but we’re seriously considering the fallout from this packaging idiocy” for the rest.) IOW, typical pol speak.

    Yes, follow up with him bluntly if only just for the hell of it. Ask him about his personal position and whether he’s changed it. And, if possible, challenge the assumptions of his letter. Like who were the “reseachers”, who were the “peers,” put in charge of these “studies” (smart money says TC tools) and give him any of the solid evidence you’ve got (Ilikely a lot thru Snowdon) to back your position. Get into a study war. Force him to the mat.

  6. Sheila says:

    I think you,re lucky to have had a reply at all Frank. I certainly have,nt. I wonder what percentage of MP,s will even bother to get back in touch.

    • I had a standard email to say mine had been received, and since then nada. My MP is Anna Soubry, the Health Minister, so I’m quite interested to know what stance she’s going to take in any response.

      I also added a paragraph to the standard letter, so it wasn’t just a form letter.

  7. David Brown says:

    Hi Frank

    Just to let you know I also sent the “Plain Packs” e-letter and have had an identical responce from my MP Barbara Keely Worsley and South Eccles (Salford). Don’t know what her real opinion is, but it was obviously a standatd letter.

    Congrats on such a good blog.


  8. Margo says:

    I did this, too, and had the following from my MP Don Foster (Lib Dem):
    “Dear Margo
    Many thanks for your letter regarding plain packaging of tobacco products. I appreciate you taking the time to write to me. The public consultation on this issue officially ended on 10 August and all responses are currently being considered by the Government. I have received many other letters on this issue – both for and against – and have passed the held views on to the Department of Health. As requested, I have written to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, and as soon as I have a response I will be in touch.
    With best wishes
    Yours sincerely ”
    His voting record says he voted moderately for the smoking ban, but another site it says he was absent and didn’t vote. I think this latter suggestion is probably true. I suspect he would like the Government to leave smokers alone and get on with on with more pressing matters. I’ve known him come out strongly on some topics but he seems to keep a low profile on smoking.
    i agree with Junican’s comment – wish I’d written my own letter instead of just sending the Forest standard.

  9. Margo says:

    I’ve just this minute received another message from my MP’s office asking for my address etc (see roobeedoo2 above). So I took the opportunity to send them – briefly – my own personal view. I would really like to know what pressure MPs are under in Parliament and how difficult it would be for any one of them to come right out strongly against the smoking ban.

    • Rose says:

      Not that easy for some, Margo

      MPs urged to vote for total smoking ban

      “Unions and public health officers are urging MPs to back a total ban on smoking in public places, including pubs and clubs. The calls come after the government’s decision last week to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the smoking ban proposals in the health Bill (Risks 239).

      The TUC has already called for a ban without exceptions. And last week GMB organiser Mick Ainsley, whose union organises casino workers, said: ‘We are writing to all GMB sponsored MPs to remind them that the issue here is not about a smoker’s individual choice, it is about the right of workers not to breathe in secondhand smoke.’

      GMB demonstrates for total ban
      Thursday 24 November 2005

      “Hospitality workers from the GMB union make a point about the dangers of second-hand smoke at a protest outside a Gala casino in London last week.

      The protesters were marking National Lung Cancer Day (17 November) by donning gas masks and calling on the Government to introduce a total ban on smoking in public places that doesn’t exempt private members’ clubs and pubs that don’t serve food.

      About 100,000 workers in hospitality will still be exposed to second-hand smoke under the Government’s plans.”

      As with the smoking ban, it all depends who they represent.

      • Rose says:

        Swarm effect

        We created a coalition around our key messages. A smoke-free steering group was set up involving major health and medical organisations in alliance with the Trades Union Congress, individual politicians, local government officers and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. They ran their own effective campaigns, but remained committed to an agreed strategy originally drafted by Ash. Networks of campaigners can be provided with key resources and a sense of direction without ever being told what to do. It’s called the “swarm effect”.

        I really don’t expect them to behave any differently over “plain” packaging.
        It’s a done deal,that the country was signed up to without our knowledge, so once again it’s more a matter of how and when to implement it.

        16. Plain packaging.

        The effect of advertising or promotion on packaging can be eliminated by requiring plain packaging: black and white or two contrasting colours, as prescribed by national authorities: nothing other than a brand name and/or manufacturer’s name, contact details and the quantity of the product in the packaging, without any logos or other features apart from health warnings, tax stamps and other government mandated information or markings: prescribed font style and size: and standardized shape, size and materials.
        There should be no advertising or promotion inside or attached to the package or on individual cigarettes or other tobacco products”

        • Frank Davis says:

          We can be a swarm too.

          We also can gain a sense of direction without ever being told what to do.

          And we are already becoming a swarm.

          And our swarm is going to be far, far larger than theirs.

  10. PJH says:

    Not impressed with the reply I got back from my MP:

  11. S Rogers says:

    This may go some way to explain why the UK Government seems so hell bent on pursuing the plain packs project.

  12. S Rogers says:

    Additionally… I am not at all against Forest trying this. After all during the consultation the other side was automatically sending emails to MPs from every person who signed up to support plain packaging. Besides which Cancer Research UK is doing the same thing RIGHT NOW….
    So MPs have been bombarded with emails from the other side. What should our side do? Sit back and do nothing?
    Btw excellent post from Frank – he should definitely write back to his MP

  13. George Speller says:

    Yup. I got the same stock phrases.

  14. melinoerealm says:

    Since quite some time now, I use small cigar cases. I wonder why I didn’t earlier, when the first dumb propaganda appeared on packets.
    I know I should have switched much earlier to cases. That I shouldn’t tolerate carrying around that filthy lying on my packets in the first place.

    The whole thing must be stopped. Not just writing letters complaining about packets. But bombarding MP’s with actual information highlighting the lies against tobacco, the financial impacts and the hatred ideology.
    The demands must be dropping the ban completely. Demanding that every MP clarifies his/her position on that for every voter to know.
    Anti-propaganda must be employed. Negative words ranging from ‘hypochondria’ to ‘hatred ideology’ need to be introduced and spread. Threats for legal actions. Organizing and lawsuits to follow. Refusal of paying fines.

    Fed up, that’s what I am….

  15. George Speller says:

    Ok, we’ll press a bit harder – I replied:
    You hope this is helpful?
    Not really. I wanted to know what you thought about plain packs, not, again sadly, a cut and paste from the Department of Health.
    You see we compare note quite often, we smokers, and it’s obvious that hundreds of people got essentiall the same letter from many different MPs.
    Now that’s just lazy.

    While we’re about it, and I bet this isn’t in the circular you got, how come the closing date of the consultation was delayed by a month to allow a foreign country – Australia – to make a submission? What use are the tiny efforts of individual citizens against the might of a full nation? Now I know that all “consultations” are rigged, but this beggars belief.

    George Speller

  16. garyk30 says:

    I doubt that they really care about your opinion at all.

    Things will probably play out like this.
    40% of them want to leave business alone.
    40% want just plain packets .
    20% want plain packets with graphic warnings and will .not accept anything less.

    The graphic warning people tell the plain pack people that they will vote with the other 40% if their wants are not met.
    They know that adding the warnings after plain packs are passed is not very likely.

    The plain pack people will decide that having the warnings is better than not having plain packs.

    Plain packs with warnings is all that will get passed.

    This scenario is probably what happened when the ban was passed.

    Full ban people knew it would be difficult to get a full ban after a partial ban had been passed and the partial ban people felt a full ban was better than no ban at all.

  17. Steve says:

    If some one can work out how my MP came up with this answer I’d appreciate an explanation

    “Thank you for your email, it is appreciated.

    As you have said that the Government has an important role to play in promoting public health, I would be happy to forward on your suggestions on how we encourage people to not take up smoking? This would be very useful in the consultation process.

    Kind regards, Justin

    Justin Tomlinson
    North Swindon Conservative MP”

    He seems to have read half the mail

  18. harleyrider1978 says:

    If their so scared of SHS why not go down there and blow smoke at them for an hour. According to Glantz and owebummers SG they will all be dead in 30 minutes from exposure…………The smokers blitz I will call it. Oh and if the MP’s happen to live thru it,simply tell em another myth busted on 30 minute shs exposure and heart attacks!

  19. cherie79 says:

    I got a very similar reply, I had added a personel comment too. I get the impression they are just not interested, a bit disappointing as I have found Damien Green helpful in the past.. Some real hard evidence of the economic costs and potential gains might shift them but who will do it? and would it ever be published if they did? I can’t understand why the tobacco companies didn’t fight the whole nonsense in the first place.

  20. waltc says:

    Well, if this goes through, smokers by the thousands should send large boxes full of crumpled plain packs to the MPs who voted for it, along with a note that says “I now use a cigarette case, so these were of no use to me. I thought, since you voted for them, you might like them.”

  21. al says:

    I’ve just received a reply from my MP – Esther McVey – Wirral West – and it is letter for letter, word for word EXACTLY the same as the one you have posted. What a load of b*llocks eh.

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