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:
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.
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?