News & Comment

Opponents of plain packaging invoke spirit of Churchill

Tue 17th May, 2016

Embattled smokers and opponents of plain packaging of tobacco will gather tonight at the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster.

Hosted by the smokers’ group Forest and the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, the event – dubbed Battle of the Brands by the organisers – marks the introduction of standardised packs on Friday [20 May].

Speakers include Professor Madsen Pirie, president of the free market Adam Smith Institute, John Noble, director of the British Brands Group, and Suleman Khonat, national spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance.

Addressing guests on film, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, will say:

“I don’t think there’s any chance that plain packaging will reduce smoking rates at all. In fact it could actually have the opposite consequence.

“If different brands can’t be marketed with different logos you could actually see cigarettes becoming a commoditised product with prices falling, and you don’t need to be a leading economist to know that if prices go down then consumption could go up.”

In a direct warning to consumers and manufacturers of other products, Littlewood will add:

“This is an issue you’ve got to care about even if you aren’t a smoker because what happens to the tobacco industry is very likely coming to the alcohol industry, the sugar industry, the fizzy drinks industry and the confectionary industry next.

“It’s time to draw a line before virtually every area of human activity is over-regulated by bossy bureaucrats.”

Also speaking out against plain packaging at tonight’s event are Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, and Ella Whelan, assistant editor of the online magazine Spiked.

“I’m not somebody who would encourage young people to smoke,” says Fox, a smoker. “Actually, I’ll often say to young people, ‘Don’t start’, but I can tell you this. Young people are more likely to start smoking if cigarettes are demonised in this way, so plain packaging seems to me to be an entirely counter-productive move.”

Ella Whelan, who started smoking at school, will tell guests:

“I had my first cigarette in the woods at the back of my school and I cannot remember what the packaging was or what brand it was. All I remember was that somebody older than me was doing it and I wanted to do it. It was the cool thing to do at the time.

“When the state decides it has to intervene in our personal lives it makes me very uncomfortable, and this is exactly what’s happening with plain packaging. It’s the state saying, 'This is the choice we want you to make', but it’s not just nudging people, it’s treating us like idiots and children.”

Simon Clark, director of the consumer group Forest, will conclude the evening by telling guests:

"Only one country in the world has introduced plain packaging so far, and that’s Australia, three years ago, and it hasn’t worked. There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that smoking rates have fallen as a result of plain packaging.

“The government has declared war not just on tobacco but also on smokers because plain packaging is designed to denormalise both the product and the consumer.

“Tonight, at the historic Churchill War Rooms, opponents of plain packaging will demonstrate how strongly many people feel about this misguided policy.

”Another battle may have been lost but Forest will continue to defend consumer freedom.

“Together with our sister campaign, Action on Consumer Choice, we will fight to keep other products out of the hands of politicians and puritanical public health campaigners.”

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