News & Comment

Stop the nonsense say critics of plain packaging

Wed 4th March, 2015

With MPs due to vote on plain packaging legislation this month, members of the public and representatives of some of Britain’s leading think tanks and campaign groups have spoken out against the measure.

Speaking at a packed event hosted by Parliament Street, Liberal Vision and the smokers’ group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs described the policy as “risible and utterly ridiculous”.

“Look at the issues that are facing our country and the world at the moment. A budget deficit this year of nearly £100bn; a fairly modest economic recovery we still don’t know is sustainable or not; and international instability in the Eurozone, in Ukraine, and further afield in Syria.

“With this sort of backdrop what kind of final act would you expect this government to take? That's right, the final act of this parliament before the general election, with that background of problems, is probably going to be to regulate the colour schemes that British adults are allowed to look at. That is a pretty feeble grasp of priorities.”

Highlighting the government’s decision to proceed with plain packaging despite the fact that two-thirds of respondents to a 2012 consultation and 99 per cent of respondents to a 2014 consultation opposed to the measure, Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “What does that tell you about the democratic process? Why do they bother consulting the public if they simply ignore the opinions of those who take part?”

John O’Connell, director of the TaxPayers Alliance, warned that, “If the Treasury loses revenue because people buy dodgy fags, as evidence suggests it will, the government will put taxes up elsewhere, so you could end up paying for plain packs whether you’re a smoker or not.”

Urging MPs to vote against plain packaging, Angela Harbutt, director of Liberal Vision, said: “Plain packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012 and the facts show that it hasn’t reduced the uptake of smoking, nor has it reduced rates amongst adults. Please, MPs, consider the facts, not the wishful fiction of state-funded lobby groups and the self-serving dreams of Whitehall bureaucrats.”

Dr Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute, one of the world’s leading free market think tanks, said it was important to ask MPs why they are in favour of plain packaging. “You have to ask them questions. Are you aware that plain packaging in Australia resulted in an increase in smoking, an increase in bootleg cigarettes, an increase in fake cigarettes? Are you aware that the ability to control who cigarettes are sold to, including children, diminished in Australia? Why don’t you take this into account?”

Emily Barley, chairman of Conservatives for Liberty, said: “I became a Conservative because I think that personal choice, individual responsibility and free markets are the basic principles that make a better society for everyone. This kind of policy is the realm of nanny statists, people who like telling everyone else what to do. I urge every Conservative MP to vote against plain packaging.”

Clare Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas and convenor of the annual Battle of Ideas festival, said: “The most troubling aspect of plain packaging is what it tells us about the authorities’ view of us. Stop treating teenagers like they’re idiots, and stop treating adults like they’re teenagers.”

Rory Broomfield, director of The Freedom Association, said: “This is about government meddling where government should not.”

Chris Snowdon, director of the IEA’s Lifestyle Economics Unit and author of Velvet Glove Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking, said the issue was not about tobacco but about “packaging and commercial freedom and the limits of government action”.

Finally, in a message read out by former MSP Brian Monteith, the Rt Hon Damian Green MP said: “As a Home Office minister when I visited China I was told by officials there that whole villages were devoted to producing cigarettes for smuggling, and they were now concentrating their activities on Australia, which was the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. They were politely incredulous that Britain would follow suit as they knew it would make life easier for criminal gangs.

“As a minister I saw at first hand the damage that crime does to people’s lives and the dangers it poses to society. We should be making criminals’ lives as difficult as possible. I hope the government will reconsider standardised packaging. As it stands this is a dangerous proposal.”

Stop The Nonsense: Plain Speaking on Plain Packaging took place at the Institute of Directors on Tuesday 24th February. To view a video of the event click here. To write to your MP about plain packs visit our Last Chance Saloon website here.

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