Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging

Pretty much everybody apart from hard-right Tory backbencher Philip Davies and groups funded by the tobacco industry support the government's plans on tobacco advertising.

Martin Dockrell is the policy and campaigns manager for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Early this morning I had a discussion on the BBC with Tory backbencher Philip Davies. Apparently, because I support the proposed curbs on tobacco marketing I am an extremist who will never be satisfied. Me and the Royal College of Physicians, BMA, Cancer Research UK, 170 other health groups in the Smokefree Action Coalition, the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Tory front bench. Pretty much everybody apart from Davies and groups funded by the tobacco industry.


The 1997 Labour government made tobacco policy its own. Labour’s “Smoking Kills” white paper put the UK at the forefront of tobacco policy in Europe. However, the burden of smoking related disease falls most heavily on the most disadvantaged and to this day, half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest is down to smoking.

Today sees the publication of something we have never seen before – a Tobacco Plan from a Conservative led Government. The tobacco industry’s tactic of lobbying secretly behind retailer front groups has been exposed and appears to have been largely ineffective, so Labour’s legislation to ban cigarette vending machines and tobacco product displays has survived largely intact.

Unlike other areas of policy, the coalition has shown remarkable continuity with the policy of the last Labour government. When the Conservatives gave a free vote on the ban on smoking in public places they set the permitted politicians to listen to the evidence, making tobacco policy a cross party issue.

The coalition even appears to be adopting one of Labour’s most ambitious ideas – a law to get rid of what health secretary Andrew Lansley now calls the “glitzy packaging” of tobacco products. Australia is already set to be the first country to put tobacco in plain packaging from the middle of next year. The government there has been persuaded by academics whose research shows:

• How the tobacco industry uses packaging to make their brands more attractive to young people;

• How colour coding packs in red, gold and silver misleads smokers into thinking some cigarettes are less harmful or addictive than others;

• How plain packaging makes health warnings more effective.

New research published here for the first time shows there is already widespread support for plain packaging and as the public comes to understand the evidence better, support is set to grow.

When respondents were asked if they would support plain packaging “if there was evidence that plain packs were less likely to give the false impression that one type of cigarette is safer than another”, 64% said they would support the measure; when asked “if there were evidence that it improved the effectiveness of health warnings”, support rose to 75%; and if there were evidence that it made cigarettes less attractive to young people the proportion supporting rose to 80%.

Smoking-bar-chart
Even smokers are more supportive “if” there is evidence that plain packs would be effective, particularly in making cigarettes less attractive to young people. Under these conditions 64% of daily smokers would support the introduction of plain packaging.

There are clear parallels with the rise in support for the ban on smoking in pubs and clubs. Support stood at a little over 50% in 2004 but according to a report by the Royal College of Physicians, as the public came to understand the evidence better, by 2007 – when the law was implemented – support had grown to more than 75 per cent.

Since implementation, as people have seen the benefits for themselves support has risen to 80%, rising fastest among smokers.

26 Responses to “Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging”

  1. Lucy V Hay

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging: //bit.ly/g3aGLW

  2. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging: //bit.ly/g3aGLW

  3. mumphLT

    This is all very nice but when people get old they don’t just live a bit longer then die quickly and painlessly having had plenty of time to hoard away money for their retirement years do they?
    So why not start off by explaining how we are going to afford more of us getting older, suffering more chronic age related illnesses and being a burden on the tax payers?
    Because as lovely as it is that we are trying to make people healthier we still have to pay for people who are no longer contributing.

    Maybe we can encourage people to pay more tax across a narrower tax band for longer and work more?

  4. Andy Mayer

    It worries me a little you’ve not provided links to the evidence of unintended consequences of these ratchet prohibition measures. For example:

    What is ASH’s response to:

    – the suggestion that such measures are expensive and marginal in respect of reducing smoking?

    – that by making legal tobacco distribution as opaque as illegal tobacco, they are a boon to illicit trade and the organised crime syndicates behind it?

    – that by incentivising smokers to break the law you increase their health risks through consumption of more toxic product, particularly low-income smokers?

    – that shopkeepers losing revenue from this suggestion will be more tempted to work with the gangs?

    – that meeting the cost of policing the illegal trade you unintentionally encourage, is not helped by the massive loss of tax revenue implicit in pushing the trade underground?

    Finally do you generally agree or disagree that is people are properly informed about the dangers, and are not hurting others, they have a right to choose to put their own health at risk?

  5. Simon

    Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging //bit.ly/hwow1c

  6. Chris

    If, if, if. The trouble is there isn’t any evidence that plain packaging will do any of those things. It’s like asking me if I’d vote Tory IF that stopped wasting taxpayer’s money on fanatical pressure groups like ASH. In a heart beat I would.

  7. Lambethian

    The toing and froing between the tobacco industry and the health lobby sometimes gets so complicated that we forget CIGARETTES KILL. If taking them off display, and putting them in plain packages helps deter a new generation of smokers it is a small price to pay. One point to the coalition government – just a pity the rest of their health policies are so destructive.

  8. Millitant

    Blimey, usual group of trolls posting away.

    Why should tobacco firms – whose products kill half their lifetime users – be allowed to advertise?

    I suppose, being trolls, you haven’t noticed that smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the UK, that it is the biggest contributer to the difference in life expectancy between social classes? Or that the tobacco firms need to addict about 200 teenagers every day, to make for their customers who have just died from smoking-related illness.

    “Expensive” – you mean the industry might have to pay a little more to push its poisons? Boo hoo.

    “Smuggling” – go and talk to a customs officer and find out about unique markings and tracking and tracing systems, which this law would not prevent and which the industry has the technology to introduce at once if it feels like it.

    Doh.

  9. Martin McKee

    Great piece by ASH on why we need to move forward on plain packaging for cigarettes //bit.ly/eEr38G

  10. Kate

    RT @martinmckee: Great piece by ASH on why we need to move forward on plain packaging for cigarettes //bit.ly/eEr38G

  11. Dennis Ager

    About 79% of people in this country do not smoke because they recognise what harm it has on their health and how unattractive a habit it is and about 75% of those that do smoke, want to quit.

    The measures announced by the Government today are a huge step in the right direction to driving down smoking rates further, and improving the health of all.

    Retailers that sell tobacco need not fear: they will still be able to sell tobacco, but will not be allowed to have it openly on display. In Ireland, a number of retailers have reported a rise in profits as they have been able to use the space taken up by tobacco displays to advertise more profitable products.

    One day in the not too distant future, we will all be grateful for these measures (as we have been with smokefree legislation) and future generations of children will wonder why smoking and tobacco displays were ever allowed.

    Roll on plain packaging and well done to the Government for listening to the support in favour of these measures

  12. Left Off

    Welcome to Andy Mayer from the right wing “Liberal Vision” website. For those who don’t know, Liberal Vision organised a meeting on tobacco smuggling but forgot to mention funding from the tobacco manufacturers association.

    I guess the answers would be:
    – the suggestion that such measures are expensive and marginal in respect of reducing smoking?
    THESE INTERVENTIONS ARE VERY LOW COST TO ALL BUT THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY. THE ASSOCIATION OF CONVENIENCE STORES SAY THE IRISH DISPLAY BAN COST ONLY £300 FOR SMALL SHOPS. LARGE SHOPS GOT THE NEW UNITS FREE FROM THE TOBACCO COMPANIES.

    – that by making legal tobacco distribution as opaque as illegal tobacco, they are a boon to illicit trade and the organised crime syndicates behind it?
    IN IRELAND THERE WAS NO CHANGE IN TREND ON DUTY PAID TOBACCO SALES. THE FALL WAS EXACTLY IN LINE WITH THE 10 YEAR AVERAGE. IN TRUTH IT IS ANTI SMUGGLING ENFORCEMENT THAT STOPS SMUGGLING. IN CANADA (WHERE THEY HAVE BANNED TOBACCO DISPLAYS) ENFORCEMENT HAS DRIVEN DOWN SMUGGLING SO MUCH THAT THE PHILIP MORRIS SAY THEIR (LEGAL) SALES ARE UP 20%

    – that by incentivising smokers to break the law you increase their health risks through consumption of more toxic product, particularly low-income smokers?
    THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY LIKE TO MAKE OUT THAT THEIR CIGARETTES ARE SOMEHOW LESS DEADLY THAN SMUGGLED CIGARETTES. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE ON THIS AT ALL. HALF OF LIFE LONG SMOKERS OF LEGAL CIGARETTES DIE FROM SMOKING RELATED ILLNESS.

    – that shopkeepers losing revenue from this suggestion will be more tempted to work with the gangs?

    AGAIN. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT POINT OF SALE DISPLAYS HAVE ANY IMPACT ON SMUGGLING AT ALL.

    – that meeting the cost of policing the illegal trade you unintentionally encourage, is not helped by the massive loss of tax revenue implicit in pushing the trade underground?

    ACCORDING TO THE POLICY EXCHANGE (NOT FAMED FOR SUPPORT OF LABOUR POLICY) SMOKING COSTS THE UK £13 BILLION BUT EARNS LESS THAN £10 BILLION IN REVENUE.

    The tobacco industry makes us poorer and sicker and it is the poorest who suffer most.

  13. Mr. Sensible

    i think it is good that for once Lansley hasn’t caved in to retailers ETC on public health.

  14. Victoria B

    Well done to the Government for listening to clinicians and the public and taking such a rational, simple step – here’s hoping it will eventually lead to extra protection for kids getting ill inhaling their parents smoke.

    Thanks ASH for all of your campaigning!

  15. Charles

    No child has started smoking by buying their first packet of cigarettes from a shop because
    1. It is illegal for under 18s to buy them from shops.
    2. Children get their first cigarettes from their friends or nick them from their parents.

  16. Dave Atherton

    Yes I am a Tory save you looking, albeit unpaid by tobacco companies completely.

    You crypto Marxists don’t get it do you? How dare you tell me how to live my life. I know smoking reduces my mortality by 7 years now go away and mind your own business. I am not some deluded prole who under the doctrine of Marxist Self-Conciousness needs guiding by more “enlightened” people.

    There is no evidence that display bans lead to less youth smoking and will only lead to more shops closing and more unemployment.

  17. dave

    You have to laugh at the stupid Tory MPs who signed up to a petition calling for the Health Secretary to ‘look at the evidence’ on point of sale. He took them at their word, he looked at the evidence instead of the ridiculous paper-thin lies spun out by the tobacco industry, and did the opposite of what they wanted. It just goes to show, be careful what you ask for.

  18. Sue

    Why don’t you just sod off and leave everyone alone. Tell all your mates at ASH to get proper jobs instead of charging the British public to be constantly bullied?

  19. Mike Harding

    Lots of good little sheep in here I see, perfect for shepherd Dockrell to guide into the liberty-free pen.

  20. Rory

    As a proud Labour supporter I am ashamed at the way fellow labourites allow ‘freedom’ to be stolen by libertarians and rightwingers.

    Freedom to choose to smoke should be no business of the government none at all.

    Choose a drug – any of them. Tell me they damage my health. Fine. Point taken, now I will choose my own drug, whether tobacco, beer, or anything elsefor that matter. It shouldnt be up to you to tell me otherwise.

  21. Chris

    This is just another stage in the relentless attack on liberty and freedom by the Tory government continuing the work of the right of centre NuLabour government. The smoking ban has ruined the pub trade and 100,000 people have lost their jobs – low paid workers often supplementing their meagre day jobs with evening work. The ban has closed working men’s club and bingo halls en masse and left retired workers and old ladies with nowhere to go and no social life.

    There is no evidence a display ban will work. None. All it will do is encourage smugglers and counterfeiters who aren’t bothered about selling to kids – it will be tantamount to child abuse. Did you see Panorama on Monday? The criminality surrounding cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting is unbelievable. They even attacked the BBC crew. The display ban will, for certain, close down many corner shops and more low paid workers will end up on the dole. But the Tories don’t care about part-time shop workers and shop owners scrapping a living, and nor will Dockrell safe in his well paid fake charity job’.

    And what’s next from the chattering classes of the home counties? Well, it’s already started when ASH Scotland held a conference with anti drink groups, and told representatives of the alcohol industry they were not welcome. Presumably tens of thousands of well paid jobs will go in Scotland as distilleries close down. Oh and these fake charities like ASH and Alcohol Concern are paid for with our taxes, and they are ‘stakeholders’ whereas we, along with whisky companies, pubs, small shops and others are left out of consultations.

    They’ve started on fat people and fast food. It’s all very well for wealthy Toies who can drink champagne and caviar; our only treat is a Macdonalds or the occasional pub meal (no smoking of course).

    Who’s next? It could be you if you play football (costing the NHS a fortune etc), play rigby, enjoy pot-holing or climbing mountains. All of this interference in the lives of the working population has to stop. Now!

  22. Left Off

    Great to see Arch Tory Atherton foaming at the mouth. But this is an arena for socialists to talk to socialists so I want to remind those Labour supporting people in this discussion that smoking is the biggest single cause of premature death in working communities. It accounts for half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest in our society. By almost any measure of disadvantage, income, occupation, education, housing tenure, mental health etc you are more lilkely to die of smoking related illness. Socialists should ensure that working people shoulder no more of the burden of smoking related disease than do the rich and priveledged.

  23. Dave Atherton

    @Left Off “..this is an arena for socialists to talk to socialists.” Goes to prove to me how shallow your socialist arguments are if you do not want to engage with people of a different view.

    “Socialists should ensure that working people shoulder no more of the burden of smoking related disease than do the rich and priveledged (sic).”

    You are quite right in the sense that 15% of middle class people smoke compared to 30% of working class people. So the answer to smoking is better education and producing more middle class people.

    Considering under Labour we have slipped from 6th to 20th in the world rankings for education, what chance on our dumbed down curriculum, prizes for all, do working class people have of bettering themselves? When you have spunked £4 trillion of my and taxpayers money on state control and non jobs in government, (like Martin Dockrell) where is the GDP growth coming from? Not forgetting you vandals destroyed grammar schools which gave many a working class person a chance. I speak as the son of an electrician and dinner lady who failed his 11+.

    13 years of Labour will only exaggerate income, wealth and smoking differences. Nero fiddles while socialists burn their fingers in hypocrisy, trying to intellectualise and justify complete failure.

    I tell you this Left Off you also confirm the foul stench of Marxists Self Consciousness in that you patronisingly want to “guide” the working class away from smoking assuming they do not know the risks. Perhaps 13 years of Labour many think that smoking is a pleasant form of assisted suicide. The 7 years early mortality I may endure as a smoker may blessing if the hammer and sickle return to Number 10.

  24. Mr Amused

    Dave Atherton,

    The amount of time you spend supporting the pro-tobacco lobby on blogs like this, I’m surprised you have ever found the time to aspire to the middle classes and bolster GDP.

    I challenge you to come out and say it, ” you think it is okay for the tobacco industry to target their lethal products at children”. By opposing all these necessary, long overdue measures that is effectively what you are saying.

    Surely even someone with your extreme, right-wing views must accept that targeting tobacco products at children to secure future generations of smokers is morally wrong.

  25. dave

    People are wrong to think Dave Atherton is genuine. He’s a pretend pro-smoker, he makes nonsense comments to make the FOREST brigade look stupid. Last time I saw him post he was claiming that smoking cures asthma. Assumedly that’s the ‘better education’ about smoking he refers to here.

  26. Jack Bennett

    Vote UKIP – the only grown up party who will leave the decision on smoking arrangement in pubs up to the landlord. They are very grown up on most issues actually which is more than we can for the three main parties who are at the beck n’call of their financial backers, pressure groups and a whole host of busybodies who should butt out (no pun intended).

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