Plain tobacco packs get go-ahead


Published: Monday 16th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Controversial regulations enforcing standardised tobacco packaging will come into effect next year after they were approved by the House of Lords.

Peers agreed the move without a vote after MPs overwhelmingly backed the move last week .

Tory Lord Naseby led the fight against the plans in the Lords, but eventually withdrew his bid to block the regulations, admitting he knew he would lose a vote.

Health minister Earl Howe, introducing the move to peers, said it was an important step towards a “smoke-free generation”.

Powers for standardising packaging were in the Children and Families Act 2014, but they needed approval from both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.

In the Commons the regulations, which will come in from May next year , were approved by a majority of 254, with 104 Tory MPs opposing the plan on a free vote.

The regulations standardise the packaging of all cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.

Apart from mandatory health warnings, the outside of packs will have to be a uniform dull brown, with the brand in a fixed-size grey typeface.

Lord Howe said: “We have looked carefully at the evidence and it shows that introducing standardised packaging is highly likely to bring important public health benefits, primarily by reducing the appeal and attractiveness of tobacco packs, especially with children and young people.”

He added: “Smoking remains a critical public health concern. Smoking is an addiction and it is largely taken up in childhood and adolescence.

“The choice to smoke is not like other choices and is often not made as an adult decision.

“The introduction of standardised packaging is likely to introduce important public health benefits and, as part of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy, will bring us a step closer to a smoke-free generation.”

He said available evidence from Australia, where plain packaging legislation is already in force, was that it would lead to a fall in cigarette sales.

Lord Howe said the Government would fight any challenge to the legislation from tobacco companies.

“We believe that these regulations are a proportionate and justified response to a major public health challenge and will be defensible in the courts,” he said.

And he said Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had said there was “no evidence” the policy would have a “significant” effect on illicit sales.

Lord Naseby, a former deputy speaker in the Commons, claimed that “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of jobs could be put at risk” in packaging firms.

He said: “The introduction of plain packaging will not, in my judgment, produce the results claimed and I base that on the evidence from Australia, which has been authenticated by varying government bodies there.

“Frankly, plain packs are little more than a smugglers’ charter. They offer criminals a wonderful template which will allow them to copy tobacco packaging easily and therefore infiltrate the supply chain more effectively.”

And he added: “Is this really an example of the enterprise economy or is it just another example of the UK wishing to be a world leader?

“I don’t think this motion we have before us is needed, the evidence is not there.”

He said it would affect “trade marks and intellectual property rights”.

Labour peer Lord Faulkner of Worcester, a long-time campaigner for the ban, said the tobacco industry was following a familiar strategy in its attempt to prevent the plain packaging policy coming into force.

“It is precisely because the regulations will work that the tobacco industry has been spending such enormous sums of money in their attempts to defeat them,” he said.

But independent crossbencher Viscount Falkland warned of “unintended consequences” from the change and asked: “How can you interfere with the marketing and sales of a legal product?”

He added: “If you don’t like smoking, ban it. Don’t try to pretend this is going to deal with it.”

Labour former health minister Lord Warner accused opponents of the move of putting forward the “same old rubbish” as was used in trying to reject claims of the impact of passive smoking.

Congratulating the Government on introducing the legislation, he asked Lord Naseby if he had enjoyed the Eagles concert he attended last year as a “guest” of tobacco company JTI Gallaher Ltd.

Lord Naseby said he had declared the interest in the parliamentary register.

Tory former minister Lord Blencathra said he recently joined the Lords and Commons Cigar Club because he was concerned about the way the Government had “caved in to some of the fanatics in the anti-smoking brigade”.

Lord Blencathra accused the Department of Health of having scraped together “every possible bogus argument” to support its case and warned all the evidence suggested that plain packaging would lead to an increase in the illicit tobacco market.

Former professor of neurology and independent crossbencher Lord Walton of Detchant, a former smoker, said smoking had been “one of the most appalling health hazards of the age”.

He told peers: “Any effort of any kind which can prevent young people from taking up this appalling habit is well worthwhile.”

For Labour, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said he supported the regulations which his party had “vigorously campaigned for”.

He said opinion polls had shown “very, very strong support for the measure”.

“It is not as if we have an authoritarian measure imposing a sort of public health view on the public.

“What we have here is a sensible measure that actually the great majority of people in this country support.”

Lord Naseby said that around 25% of MPs had been against the ban and he suspected it would be a similar number in the Lords, but admitted it would be a waste of time to force a vote.

The move was welcomed by Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

She said: “This is a decisive moment in the long and patient struggle to reduce, and then end, the horrors that the tobacco industry has brought to our country and to the rest of the world.

“Today we should remember the millions of people who have died too young from diseases caused by smoking, and the families and friends they left behind.

“And we should resolve for good and all that this misery must not be inherited by our children.”

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “This is an immense triumph. Today parliamentarians stuck to their guns – despite the desperate efforts of tobacco lobbyists – in the name of the 200,000 children in this country who are every year enticed to take up smoking.

“Having introduced standardised tobacco packaging, the UK can stand tall as a world leader in promoting public health.”

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This clampdown on tobacco packaging means that today’s children have a much better chance of not smoking.

“Cigarette packs that are plastered in colourful, eye-catching advertising will soon be condemned to history and completely unrecognisable to the next generation of children.

“With less attractive packaging and larger health warnings, it will be far more difficult for cigarette manufacturers to avoid the fact that smoking kills.”

Published: Monday 16th March 2015 by The News Editor

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