Did lobbying scupper plain cigarette packaging?

The government has made two recent U-turns on public health issues. The first is minimum alcohol pricing, plans for which were scrapped in March amid rumours of a rebellion by senior Tories including home secretary Teresa May.

The government has made two recent U-turns on public health issues. The first was on minimum alcohol pricing, plans for which were scrapped in March amid rumours of a rebellion by senior Tories including home secretary Teresa May.

Despite its popularity with health groups, minimum alcohol pricing wasn’t all that popular with the electorate, as the graph below shows. Half of those polled last week by YouGov for the Sunday Times opposed the introduction of a minimum price, compared to 39 per cent who supported the proposal.

It’s fairly credible to assume the government may have dropped the policy on the basis that it might cost votes.

The same, however, cannot be said for the decision to drop plain cigarette packaging. The government unexpectedly left plans to introduce plain packaging out of last week’s Queen’s Speech, despite the fact that the measure appears popular with the electorate.

Over half of those questioned in the same YouGov poll supported the removal of coloured branding from cigarette packets, compared to just a quarter who opposed it.

Plain packets

So what did change the government’s mind on plain packaging? After all, as the Guardian reported last week, at least one health minister had been briefing that the bill would be in last week’s Queen’s speech.

The answer may be lobbying by big tobacco. As the same article goes on to say:

“Department of Health minutes released last week reveal that Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International were each invited to make representations to the government, in which they attacked the plan and its impact on the UK economy.”

11 Responses to “Did lobbying scupper plain cigarette packaging?”

  1. DaveAtherton20

    When it came to Dept of Health responses the pro plain packaging people mustered 235,000 votes and the anti plain packaging people 500,000.

    The real reason that it was dropped was from opposition from cabinet minsters and MPs. Not forgetting there was not one shred of evidence that it would work. 5 months into the plain packaging in Australia sales are unaffected.

    Most importantly it was viewed that the potential for increasing the black market in fake cigarettes was real and not a risk worth taking.

  2. Dr Evil

    Plain packaging is in the EU tobacco control directive. So by leaving it out of any home grown legislation, Cammo can blame the naughty EU for any packaging job losses when this directive gets rubber stamped by the EU parliament. I really think it is that simple. Crosby probably advised him to junk it as it would happen anyway, so concentrate on the big issues.

  3. cole

    And Lynton Crosby, perhaps.

  4. Angela Harbutt

    1.There has been no “u-turn” on plain packaging. The Government committed to a public consultation on plain packaging. It did not commit to introducing plain packaging.

    2. The plain packaging poll was commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health -and conducted by YouGov whose (very) close links to ASH are well-reported. I think we all know how polls can be manipulated.

    3. As stated by others, the consultation prompted an unprecedented 500,000 responses opposing the policy (compared to 200,000 responses in favour). Clearly not that popular a policy then.

    4. 4 tobacco companies were invited in to meet with low-level civil servants at the Dept of Health to discuss whether the companies could provide any further information to inform the impact assessment on tobacco packaging. If low level civil servants wield that much influence we are in trouble.

    5. The last Labour government considered plain packaging as one of several possible tobacco control policies and, in 2009, it rejected it.

  5. Guest

    Re point 2. Correction. I see it is a “new” YouGov poll. I do like the wording though. 😉 ….

  6. Angela Harbutt

    1.There has been no “u-turn” on plain packaging? The Government committed to a public consultation on plain packaging. It did not commit to introducing plain packaging.

    2. Re the YouGov poll… Not surprising that the kneejerk reaction is as stated. When you actually explain the issues in any detail to the public they soon realise the policy is rather daft. I suspect the Govt has done a lot more than ask one (understandably) simplistic question. As stated by others, the consultation prompted an unprecedented 500,000 responses opposing the policy (compared to 200,000 responses in favour).

    3. 4 tobacco companies were invited in to meet with low-level civil
    servants at the Dept of Health to discuss whether the companies could
    provide any further information to inform the impact assessment on
    tobacco packaging. If low level civil servants wield that much influence
    we are in trouble.

    4. The last Labour government considered plain packaging as one of
    several possible tobacco control policies and, in 2009, it rejected it. I also did not notice plain packaging in the alternative Queens speech issued earlier this month by the Labour party.

  7. Simon Cooke

    Plain packaging was opposed by:

    The police because of the risks of more counterfeiting and smuggling

    The unions because of the threat to jobs

    The packaging industry (see above)

    Over half a million people who took the time to make representation to the consultation

    For sure the tobacco industry was opposed – not because plain packs would hurt their position but because it hampers the way in which brands operate (none of which has anything to do with people taking up the habit)

    And on the polling it rather depends on the question you ask – I wouldn’t trust any poll conducted by YouGov on smoking (not THERE is an interest fully played out)

    You’ll find a little more detail and all the links here:

    http://theviewfromcullingworth.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-police-unions-business-and-public.html

  8. Simon Cooke

    Plain packaging was opposed by:

    The police because of the risks of more counterfeiting and smuggling

    The unions because of the threat to jobs

    The packaging industry (see above)

    Over half a million people who took the time to make representation to the consultation

    For sure the tobacco industry was opposed – not because plain packs would hurt their position but because it hampers the way in which brands operate (none of which has anything to do with people taking up the habit)

    And on the polling it rather depends on the question you ask – I wouldn’t trust any poll conducted by YouGov on smoking (not THERE is an interest fully played out)

    You’ll find a little more detail and all the links here:

    http://theviewfromcullingworth.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-police-unions-business-and-public.html

  9. Simon Cooke

    Plain packaging is not in the draft EU tobacco control directive. There’s a whole lot of lobbying to get it in there but the people in charge of trade and markets tell them it’s not allowed

  10. SadButMadLad

    That one minister who has been briefing that the bill would be in the speech is Anna Soubry who has no right to speak out before a consultation has finished. The government rules are explicit in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance of representation. Anna’s speaking out of turn shows that the lobbying is working, from the anti-tobacco groups.

  11. SadButMadLad

    That one minister who has been briefing that the bill would be in the speech is Anna Soubry who has no right to speak out before a consultation has finished. The government rules are explicit in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance of representation. Anna’s speaking out of turn shows that the lobbying is working, from the anti-tobacco groups.

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