Forest: our response to new review on plain packaging
Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 13:04
Simon Clark

Another 3.00am alarm call. That's two days' running.

This morning, instead of driving to Manchester for BBC Breakfast, I had to drive to London - leaving early to avoid the traffic - for ITV's Daybreak.

They told me plain packaging was their lead story and so it was - at 6.10.

I was sharing the sofa with Luciana Berger, Labour's shadow minister for public health.

We've never met but she won me over in seconds by shaking my hand, calling me by my name, and dazzling me with her smile. (I never got this treatment from Diane Abbott.)

Anyway, the papers are reporting that the Government has done a U-turn and will introduce plain packaging before the next election. Some are describing it as a double U-turn.

Let's get this straight. There has never been a U-turn. The Government never promised to introduced plain packaging. It promised a public consultation and it delivered.

Then, when the Government decided in May not to proceed with the policy, they made it clear they would continue to monitor the situation.

The new review announced this morning in a written statement by public health minister Jane Ellison is part of that process.

I won't deny we are disappointed at the timing of the review but to suggest that plain packaging is a done deal and will be introduced before the 2015 election is conjecture not fact.

What is clear is that this is no longer about health. (It never has been, of course.) The reason the Government has acted as it has is politics.

First, the Coalition was in danger of losing control of the Children and Families Bill because opponents wanted to include an amendment to introduce plain packs.

By adding its own amendment, that can be triggered at any time but can also lie dormant, the Government is trying to reclaim the initiative and keep the power to introduce plain packs in its own hands.

Second, the Scottish Government wants to introduce plain packaging in Scotland even though it probably doesn't have the legal power to do so on its own.

The UK Government can't contest this (not before the referendum anyway) because it will be accused of interfering in Scottish politics.

The review is Cameron's way of reminding Alex Salmon who's in charge on plain packaging.

None of this is good news for opponents of plain packaging but this is far from over.

Here's a slightly edited version of Forest's official response, released this morning:

Forest: plain pack review "premature"

Campaigners opposed to plain packaging of tobacco have accused the government of ignoring the views of hundreds of thousands of people who opposed the policy in a public consultation.

They also describe as "premature" the government's decision to commission a further review of the evidence.

Angela Harbutt, campaigns manager at the smokers' group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said:

"Over 700,000 people took part in the public consultation and a huge majority opposed plain packaging.

"Fifteen months later the government seems to be ignoring the outcome of that consultation despite the fact that very little has changed in the intervening period.

"Although Australia introduced plain packaging twelve months ago it's far too early to say what the long-term impact will be."

She added:

"Although we think it's premature, we welcome a further review as long as it considers all the available evidence and is genuinely independent and impartial."

Full press release: Forest - plain pack review "premature"

PS. As I write Forest's campaigns manager Angela Harbutt is on World At One (BBC Radio 4). I'll try and add a link later.

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