As a refreshing aside from the gay marriage debate which has raged like a bull on heat, I have today written to my local MP about an issue which has got my own blood pressure rising.
While he is still fresh from opposing gay marriage, I have followed countless libertarians in using the Say No to Plain Packs website to write to Rehman Chishti and urge him to oppose plain packaging on tobacco products.
Let us be fundamentally clear, this is not about protecting the income of tobacco giants, as tobacco displays in large stores are already illegal and will be outlawed for smaller concerns in 2015.
No, he says, as he enjoys a smooth drag on a menthol cigarette, those who choose to smoke know that there are cigarettes for sale behind the cupboard doors or shutters (for one thing, there are usually labels on there saying as much) and with the countless brands being mostly ultimately owned by a handful of companies, it will not matter much to Imperial Tobacco, for example, if you opt for Windsor Blue, JPS, Richmond or Lambert and Butler.
N.b. I chose Imperial Tobacco as my example as they have a 45% market share of tobacco consumption in the UK, not because Windsor Blue, JPS and Richmond are three of the four brands which I choose to smoke.
And, as UKIP MEP and Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall says, “Research shows that ironically plain packaging is more likely to lead to more tobacco consumption.”
Why? “Removing brand imagery leads consumers to shift their preferences away from premium brands towards cheaper alternatives which would make cigarettes more affordable and consumption would rise.”
In the recent public consultation, the government was faced with resounding opposition. Of 700,000 responses (most opinion polls project national public opinion on the basis of just a couple of thousand responses), half a million were opposed to plain packaging – and many of those are non-smokers. Respondents included representatives from retailers, wholesalers, politicians, trade unions, the Intellectual Property community and, crucially, the law enforcement community.
Jaine Chisholm Caunt, Secretary General of the TMA, argues “Plain packs would be far easier to copy, and would therefore be a gift to the criminal gangs behind the illegal trade in tobacco and increase the £3.1bn – £8.5m per day – that is currently lost to the UK Treasury as a result of this crime.
“These illegal traders do not care who they sell to, and frequently target children. The percentage of children who smoke in the UK is at an historic low – 5%. We feel the government should reduce this figure still further by tackling children’s access to tobacco, through greater investment in enforcement action and tougher penalties targeted at illegal tobacco gangs, and by making proxy purchasing of tobacco illegal, as it is for alcohol.”
Plain packaging could increase smoking, increase trade in illegal cigarettes and make access to tobacco easier for thos under the age of 18. At least there is a mandate for it, though, right? Wrong!
Once again, th government are nannying around without a mandate from the public – as none of the three main parties had plain packaging in their 2010 election manifesto. Indeed, in 2008, the Labour government actually rejected plain packaging on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support such a policy.
So what can you do to tell your MP you don’t want plain packaging? Well it’s all rather simple really.
Go to www.no2plainpacks.org, enter your postcode to find your MP, then at the bottom enter your name, email adddress and postal address then press “SUBMIT”. The letter is already typed for you, although you can add your own message to it too, if you wish.
Support common sense, oppose underage smoking and illegal tobacco and tell your MP Hands Off Our Packs!