Paul Burstow writes: Standardised tobacco packaging – a step in the right direction

cigaretteAs Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on smoking and health, I welcome the publication of Sir Cyril Chantler’s review of the public health case for introducing standardised packaging for tobacco products.

The Review is a thorough assessment of the public health evidence, particularly as it relates to marketing smoking to young people. One of the key objectives of the all party group is to help prevent the next generation of children and young people from taking up the habit.

Among existing smokers, two thirds report they began to smoke before the age of 18, and almost two fifths before the age of 16. Cancer research UK has estimated that around 200,000 children began to smoke in 2011 alone. The tobacco industry needs new smokers, as its existing customers quit, become ill or die prematurely.

The implementation of standardised packaging in Australia has made tobacco less attractive to young people and has improved the effectiveness of health warnings.

The tobacco lobby knows that the design of cigarette packaging is a very effective advertising tool and that it particularly affects young people. Industry documents released in the US show that cigarette packaging has been used by the industry for decades to appeal to young people.

The tobacco industry argues that all of its marketing activity, including packaging, aims solely to persuade existing smokers to switch brand and never targets children or potential new smokers. Sir Cyril has heard no coherent argument as to how this separation happens in practice. Once children are exposed to these ‘badge’ products, that act as a ‘silent salesman’, they are susceptible to their appeal whether it is intended to target them or not.

The review rejected the tobacco industry’s primary public argument that standardised packaging could increase the level of illicit trade in tobacco products. In fact, as the review points out, even the tobacco industry in Australia has come to accept that standardised packaging in that country has not led to an increase in the level of counterfeit product. This is not surprising, since all the key security features on existing packaging can and will be included on standard packs, including number codes and covert anti-counterfeit marks.

The cause and effect are clear. Package based advertising should be banned. Consumers in Australia are reporting that they think the same product tastes different. The same product is less attractive, standardised packaging is affecting behaviour. Sir Cyril’s review is another positive step in the right direction for tobacco control.

Key amendments in the Lords to the Children & Families Bill have paved the way for the Secretary of state to introduce regulations so that standardised packaging can become part of the law sooner rather than later. Our Peers, led by Claire Tyler, were at the forefront of ensuring that the Government made these changes in the Lords, working both behind the scenes and with MPs and Peers of all Parties to make the case for standardised packaging.

* Paul Burstow is Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton and Cheam and was the MP until the dissolution of Parliament on 30th March.

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22 Comments

  • Nanny state.

  • Andrew Emmerson 11th Apr '14 - 11:34am

    What an absolute shambles that our MPs are supporting such nanny state nonsense. Either leave smokers alone or at least be honest and say you want to ban tobacco outright. Liberty or none, but this ever creeping paternalism is awful.

  • What sort of a liberal would say such a thing?

  • Stuart Mitchell 11th Apr '14 - 12:01pm

    @Andrew Emmerson
    “Either leave smokers alone or at least be honest and say you want to ban tobacco outright.”

    They ARE leaving smokers alone. How will the plain packaging interfere with your right to smoke if you want to?

    If such packaging will spoil smokers’ enjoyment then I’m sure some enterprising soul will produce stickers you can put on your fag packets to make them look like they used to.

  • Actions have consequences.
    The next product aimed at young smokers will be – back to the future on this – cigarette cases. They will be given away at point of sale covered in advertising with no possibility of any regulation. When you think about it is it obvious. As a non-smoker I have no axe to grind on this, just pointing out that there is never any easy, quick fix to a problem like tobacco addiction.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 11th Apr '14 - 1:33pm

    And when will the powers that be insist on plain packaging for everything else?

  • There is one major hole in all this! If the desire is to reduce cigarette smoking then why are e-cigarettes effectively being exempted and hence allowed to advert in newspapers and magazines and more importantly on TV?

    From the advertiesments I’ve seen the e-cigarette’s have adopted exactly the same branding and advertising strategy as the tobacco industry used prior to their advertisements being banned. The reason for this must not only to attract existing smokers/nicotine addicts but to attract a new generation of nicotine addicts, some of whom will naturally decide to try the real thing….

  • Such a depressingly illiberal approach.

  • Stuart Mitchell
    Yes you are right but the Pavlovian Dogs of Big Tobcco will come out with the same old nonsense irrespective of the evidence.
    This is a classic case of big money and big lobbyists trying to drown out the voice of reason. They will continue to do so because the lobbyists will be paid huge sums of money to make sure they continue. Of course some of the people repeating the Big Tobacco slogans will be ” useful idiots ” as Lenin might have described them. Some of them will be genuine smokers merely parroting the phrases carefully crafted by the lobbyists. I am delighted that leading Liberal Democrats are wise to the tricks of Big Tobacco and are following the evidence.

    Well done Paul Burstow! Well done Claire Tyler!

  • @Hugh
    As a non smoker you may be unaware that it has been against the law to give away free gifts with any tobacco product for decades.
    As a non-smoker with no axe to grind I expect you will be delighted that governments of all political parties have already acted to prevent the hypothetical problem you suggest might arise.

  • Psi
    Authentic and classical Liberals throughout the 19th and 20th centuries have a long and proud record of public health measures. This is a classic public health measure. It does not restrict any individual’s liberty but it protects children from over ruthless marketing by rich and powerful multi national corporations selling an addictive product that will kill fifty percent of those who get addicted in childhood.
    Well done all those Liberal Democrat parliamentarians who are carrying on the public health traditions of Liberals through the ages.

  • This is nothing more than petty and vindictive nannying of smokers.

    I can’t wait for alcohol to be sold in plain packaging.

  • @JohnTilley
    “it has been against the law to give away free gifts with any tobacco product for decades.”

    e-Cigarettes aren’t categorised as tobacco products yet…

  • Roland
    Nothing I have said contradicts either of your points.

    There are those who hold the view that so-called e-cigarettes can form part of a harm reduction strategy. That is not my view for the reasons you set out in your first comment.

  • Smoking causes terrible suffering & death. No one should deny our right to be that stupid but it is surely in our interest to discourage it. Perhaps the idea of the compassionate state isn’t illiberal?
    This blog is inundated with the use of the word ‘illiberal’ to make an argument. I left the Labour Party because the word socialist was used in the same way.

  • @JohnTilley
    Sorry, I should of cited you as the source of the quote I was adding to rather than addressing my comment to you and hence give the impression that you were in some way misrepresenting things.

    So yes I do agree with your points, although I do think that e-cigarettes, like nicotine patches can form part of a reduction strategy; however, given the level of lifestyle advertising now beginning to be seen I’m beginning to think that reduction isn’t the intent of their promoters. I wonder how long it will be before patches get a makeover…

  • Roland

    Yes — the e-cig companies all belong to the same Big Tobacco companies and effectively use them as a Trojan Horse for advertising the smoking habit and introducing a new generation o nicotine addiction. They should have been subject to regulation years ago.

  • Michael Parsons 14th Apr '14 - 10:16am

    Hey! Wouldn’t plain packaging violate the right of US companies to promote and sell their products here under the marketing Free Trade agreements Lib Dems so avidly support? How could they make headway against their rivals under such arrangements? Anti-competitive legislation of this sort would simply destroy companies.

  • Michael Parsons

    The simple answer to your question is “no”.
    I am guessing you don’t want a full legal argument set out here but I seem to remember you can find a link to one on the ASH website.

  • Paul Burstow

    “The implementation of standardised packaging in Australia has made tobacco less attractive to young people and has improved the effectiveness of health warnings. ”

    That is quite a strong statement to make given the relatively limited evidence available? The review was published on 3rd April 2014 Australia has only been using it since December 2012

    Roland

    “If the desire is to reduce cigarette smoking then why are e-cigarettes effectively being exempted and hence allowed to advert in newspapers and magazines and more importantly on TV?”

    Interestingly a legitimate question, it looks like a loophole that could be easily closed. Unless someone has a good argument why not, I’m open to convincing.

    JohnTilley

    “This is a classic public health measure. It does not restrict any individual’s liberty but it protects children from over ruthless marketing by rich and powerful multi national corporations selling”

    Hmmm. Not exactly a “classic public health measure” a classic one would be to offer people a treatment that had positive externalities (vaccinations/inoculations), or to inform people of the risks and help them understand better ways of doing things. This is neither.

    I used to feel our society was very pro-smoking when trains stank of it, you couldn’t breathe in any pub for it and as a non-smoker I often felt uncomfortable asking people to blow their smoke away from me (especially when working in a smoky environment).

    However with all the anti-smoking measures the balance has tipped too far the other way. The intention is now to “de-normalize” smoking which is to put extreme pressure on smokers, by making them feel like outcasts. This to me is not liberalism. I am all for informing and helping, setting standards to reduce harm (particularly to non-smokers) but we are now in to an attitude that feels like bullying.

    Also I think you over estimate the contribution of packet branding on the young.

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