News & Comment

Removing reference to flavour is "petty, childish and ridiculous"

Sat 5th September, 2015

Forest has described as "petty, childish and ridiculous" plans to remove references to flavour on cigarette packs in the intervening period before flavoured cigarettes, including menthol, are outlawed in 2020.

Responding to the Department of Health consultation on implementation of the revised TPD2, which closed on September 3, Forest wrote:

'It beggars belief that anyone could come up with such a ludicrous idea but nothing surprises us about the tobacco control industry that stops at nothing to inconvenience ordinary law-abiding consumers, not to mention the retailers who sell this perfectly legitimate product.

'Without the word ‘menthol’ on the packet how on earth are consumers supposed to tell whether a packet contains menthol cigarettes? The aim, clearly, is to restrict consumers to their existing brand of cigarette, making it difficult if not impossible for them to choose a new or different brand during the transitional period (which they are perfectly entitled to do) ...

'Given the tobacco display ban and the introduction of standardised packaging (which will remove all branding colours from the packet), do we really need yet another regulation that treats adult consumers as if they are infants? Is the Government really prepared to lower itself to that level? It’s bad enough that menthol cigarettes are to be outlawed (Forest is strongly opposed to the measure) but don’t, in the intervening period, remove the reference to the flavour on the packet.

'Whatever the product, consumers have a right to expect any relevant information, including the flavour, to be included on the packet. Why should consumers of tobacco, a legal product, be treated any differently?'

Here's our full response to the handful of questions that were relevant to consumers:

The TPD2 requires Member States to choose between the warnings ‘Smoking kills’ and ‘Smoking kills – quit now’. The Government is minded to require that tobacco products be labelled with the warning ‘Smoking kills – quit now’ to align with UK smoking cessation messaging. Do you have any information/evidence that would inform this choice?

Warnings should be exactly that, a warning. ‘Smoking kills’ is a warning. ‘Smoking kills – quit now’ isn’t just a warning. It’s an instruction – a hectoring, bossy instruction from Big Government to adult consumers who are well aware of the health risks of smoking and don’t need to be told to quit in such a dictatorial manner.

Tobacco is a legal product. The UK Government collects as much as £10 billion a year from consumers via tobacco taxation. It is hypocritical to say the least for government to benefit financially from the sale of tobacco while at the same time demanding that consumers quit. Government is right to inform or warn consumers about the health risks of smoking, but it has no business ordering them to quit.

We have no evidence that might help us predict the impact of the Government’s preferred choice of words. It’s not unreasonable however to suggest that most consumers will ignore whatever warning the Government chooses. We call it ‘warning fatigue’. Anecdotally we know too that others will actively ‘reach for their fags in defiance’ at yet another attempt to bully them to quit.

Has the Government carried out any research on this issue or is it simply minded to require that tobacco products be labelled with the warning ‘Smoking kills – quit now’ because the default position of government with regard to smoking has clearly changed from a nanny state mentality to that of a bully state. Education and information are no longer enough, it seems. Today it’s all about coercion and control.

The Government is minded to derogate individually wrapped cigars and cigarillos from the full labelling regime, requiring only the general warning ‘Smoking Kills’ or ‘Smoking Kills – Quit Now’; one of the text warnings from the combined warning list but no picture; and a reference to the smoking cessation information. Do you agree with this approach?

Yes.

Should cross-border distance sales of tobacco products to consumers be prohibited?

No. The European Union is a single market, allegedly. Tobacco is a legal consumer product. Tobacco products should be available for consumers to buy from other EU Member States in person or long distance. Ban cross-border distance sales and consumers will be denied choice (for example, brands available in one EU Member State but not available in another). In particular a ban will discriminate against the poor, the elderly and the infirm, many of whom may find it difficult to travel to another EU Member State to purchase abroad. A ban will also play into the hands of smugglers and illicit traders who will happily provide consumers with the products they want at a much lower price. Governments will lose revenue and unwitting consumers may be at risk of buying counterfeit goods from unscrupulous traders.

Should cross-border distance sales of e-cigarettes and refills to consumers be prohibited?

No. See response to previous question. Many of the same points apply.

Under a notification scheme the Government is minded to include provision to require manufacturers or importers of novel tobacco products to provide, with any notification, information on: (a) the toxicity of the product, its ingredients and emissions; (b) the addictiveness of the product, its ingredients and emissions; (c) the expected effects of the product on the cessation of tobacco consumption by existing users of tobacco products; and (d) the perception of the product by consumers or potential consumers (or predictions as to how the product will be perceived), including the attractiveness of the product. The Government believes that this information should and will be available to manufacturers and importers prior to launching all new products. Do you agree with this approach?

No. This approach seems designed to do one thing – remove as many novel tobacco products from the market as possible. This in turn would have a huge impact on adult consumer choice. We support points (a) and (b) on the grounds that consumers have a right to objective information and scientific evidence, but points (c) and (d) are highly subjective and have no place, we believe, in a notification scheme.

The Government is minded to require that e-cigarettes be labelled with the warning ‘This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. It is not recommended for use by non-smokers.’ Do you agree?

No. Far too much is made of nicotine’s addictive qualities. E-cigarettes are used by many smokers as an aid to cut down or quit smoking, or by ex-smokers as an alternative to smoking tobacco. Many smokers are encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes because there is a general belief that e-cigarettes are not only less harmful but are also less addictive than combustible cigarettes. (We are not aware of any evidence that would suggest otherwise.)

Labelling e-cigarettes in this way could be counter-productive. It will create unnecessary fears about the devices that could deter smokers from switching to what most experts, including bodies such as Public Health England, consider a far less harmful product. There is little or no evidence that e-cigarettes are purchased by never smokers, nor is there evidence that e-cigarettes are a gateway to combustible cigarettes. Why, then, add the gratuitous ‘advice’ that e-cigarettes are ‘not recommended for use by non-smokers’. Far from informing consumers, it comes across as scaremongering. Worse, it implies there is a risk from using e-cigarettes when current evidence suggests there is very little risk to the health of the consumer.

Nicotine itself is not a dangerous drug. According to Public Health England, in a recent report, it is no more harmful than caffeine. If the Government wants to label e-cigarettes at all we politely suggest it should be minded to reassure consumers of the relatively benign nature of the product instead of raising unnecessary and possibly counter-productive concerns.

Should the Government charge the industry proportionate fees to recover costs associated with the TPD2?

No. Experience suggests that ultimately the consumer pays. We therefore reject the suggestion that the Government should charge the industry proportionate fees to recover costs associated with the TPD2.

Should retailers and importers be given the proposed transition period until May 2017 to sell through old stock?

Yes, and possibly longer. Small shopkeepers in particular can ill afford to throw away any stock. If it takes some retailers longer (ie beyond May 2017) to sell through old stock, the Government should adopt a common sense approach and allow them to do so without fear of penalty. Is a few extra weeks going to make that much difference to the health of the nation?

We are aware that tobacco products that benefit from transitional arrangements (menthol), or are exempt from the ban on characterising flavours, will no longer able to provide a reference to the flavour on the packet. We would be interested to receive views on the impact of this provision.

Of all the measures in the TPD2, several of which are illiberal and unnecessarily restrictive in terms of consumer choice, this is possibly the most absurd. The ban on menthol cigarettes will deny millions of consumers throughout the EU a product they have consumed and enjoyed for years if not decades. Incredibly, in the interim period before the ban is introduced in 2020, menthol cigarettes will be available to the consumer but there will be no mention of the flavour on the packet!!

Petty, childish, ridiculous … none of these adjectives do justice to this extraordinary proposal. It beggars belief that anyone could come up with such a ludicrous idea but nothing surprises us about the tobacco control industry that stops at nothing to inconvenience ordinary law-abiding consumers, not to mention the retailers who sell this perfectly legitimate product. Without the word ‘menthol’ on the packet how on earth are consumers supposed to tell whether a packet contains menthol cigarettes? The aim, clearly, is to restrict consumers to their existing brand of cigarette, making it difficult if not impossible for them to choose a new or different brand during the transitional period (which they are perfectly entitled to do).

The impact of this measure will not only inconvenience consumers, it will also inconvenience and confuse a great many shop assistants unfamiliar with the names of different brands of menthol cigarettes. Asked by a customer, ‘What brands of menthol cigarettes do you sell?’, many shop assistants will be unable to answer. Instead of using their eyes to search the shelves (which should take no more than a few seconds), they will no doubt have to refer to a list before looking for the relevant brands that, in the UK, are already hidden behind shutters or doors.

Consumers have a right to be allowed to make an informed choice about the product they buy. After the introduction of standardised packaging in the UK consumers and shop assistants will be faced with identical packs with only the name identifying the brand the consumer wishes to buy. Removing any reference to the flavour will make it even harder for the consumer.

Given the tobacco display ban and the introduction of standardised packaging (which will remove all branding colours from the packet), do we really need yet another regulation that treats adult consumers as if they are infants? Is the Government really prepared to lower itself to that level? It’s bad enough that menthol cigarettes are to be outlawed (Forest is strongly opposed to the measure) but don’t, in the intervening period, remove the reference to the flavour on the packet.

Whatever the product, consumers have a right to expect any relevant information, including the flavour, to be included on the packet. Why should consumers of tobacco, a legal product, be treated any differently?

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