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« Minister for Europe: economic recovery will not solve democratic deficit | Main | Another epic fail – smoking rate down one per cent in Wales since smoking ban »

Open minded? Another health minister comes out for plain packaging

A few weeks ago, on the day of the local elections and before the Queen's Speech, I received an email.

It read:

About 30 minutes ago a man knocked on our front door. "I'm Norman Lamb, your MP. Have you voted yet today?" I shook his hand and told him that because of the smoking ban and plain packaging I wouldn't be voting for his party.

He made clear that he 'respects my opinion' (ie thinks I am wrong). But we chatted on about plain packs and he said, almost verbatim, "I can reassure you that it won't be coming in during this parliament". He made fairly clear that the preference is to wait to see the body of evidence coming from Australia/New Zealand, which he believes will come.

I had little doubt the story was genuine but I didn't publish it at the time because it was based on a private conversation.

I nevertheless took heart that it seemed to confirm reports that plain packaging would not be in the Queen's Speech.

Norman Lamb, you see, is not only a Lib Dem MP, he's also a minister at the Department of Health.

Today the Guardian reports that the very same Norman Lamb is urging the coalition "to press ahead with forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain packets to reduce sales, despite the plan being dropped from the Queen's Speech because of unease in Downing Street".

Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat, has urged ministers to make Britain the first country in Europe to adopt what he claims would become a key element of the legacy of government's time in power.

"As a liberal I would always defend someone's right to smoke, if that's what they choose to do. But, given we're dealing here with a product that kills between 80,000 and 100,000 people a year, I think it's legitimate for government to seek to control the marketing of that deadly product," Lamb told the Guardian.

"I think it would be a legacy for this government to have legislated on something which would be a landmark public health reform and to be out there in front in Europe. It's something that both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives could be very proud of," he added.

The care and support minister said he intended to keep fighting to secure the introduction of plain packs, even though it did not appear as expected in the government's legislative programme unveiled last week. David Cameron ditched it amid fears of a backbench revolt against a "nanny state" idea and tobacco industry warnings of job losses if it went ahead.

"MPs from all three parties support this, so I will continue to argue the case for us to act. There could still be an opportunity in this parliament to act and I will argue the case for it," said Lamb.

No-one can accuse Lamb of hypocrisy. He made it clear, when speaking to my correspondent, that he supports plain packaging.

Then again, having allegedly reassured a constituent that plain packaging won't be introduced in this parliament, he is now actively urging the Government (of which he is a member) to do exactly that.

Another point: we are repeatedly told that the Government has yet to make a decision, one way or the other, about plain packaging and that it continues to have an "open mind" on the subject.

Despite this, Norman Lamb becomes the second health minister to openly declare his support for the policy.

Moreover, he intends to "keep fighting" to get plain packs introduced.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to get a grip on his ministers who, when they're not privately leaking information to newspapers, are in open revolt about government policy.

Meanwhile, nine months after the end of the public consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco, we are still waiting for publication of the report and official confirmation that 500,000 people signed petitions opposing plain packs whilst a relatively meagre 220,000 people supported it.

Could that be the reason it has yet to appear? Or perhaps the Department of Health is desperately hanging on for evidence from Australia that plain packaging is working as intended.

Meanwhile Norman Lamb has had his 15 seconds of fame. He must be very proud.

See: Lib Dem minister urges coalition to carry out plain cigarette packet plan

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Reader Comments (3)

I lived for many years in Norman Lamb's Bailiwick. Just before the last Wastemonger Election I got a call from Aged Mother informing me that I was to vote for Norman. Now I should explain that the thought of voting for any party except the Tories is an anathema to Aged Mother . The Clan Matriarch decreeing we should all vote for a "SDPer" comes close to heresy- besides demonstrating just how badly Aged Mother is out of touch.

Why were I and my siblings instructed to vote for an "L-word" ? Well as Aged Mother herself said "he's (Norman) has been a good friend to this family". He has indeed.

And he's been a real friend to countless thousands of other families in North Norfolk. People in North Norfolk (Darwin's Waiting Room, The Departure Lounge, Home Of The Turnip Taliban) vote the man and not his policies however silly those policies are. No matter how much we were all brought up to believe that a vote for the Liberals was a 'wasted vote'. Norman has fought for so many of us that its hard to find someone who doesn't think he is a great MP despite, and I repeat DESPITE, his party politics. He is genuinely loved and admired and I could name maybe 50 people I know of personally whom he has fought for, whom he has helped battle bureaucracy or The Council or the DWP or...or...or..

Drive through any North Norfolk market town at Election time and you'll need snow goggles to cope with the sea of horrible neon orange posters and flags.

So whilst every Norfolk smoker may dislike his current silly cow towing to the cAshites and fASHistos, it's very unlikely they'll vote UKIP next time round.

Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 12:33 | Unregistered CommenterThe Blocked Dwarf

Can this be the same Norman Lamb who back in 2008 commented on tobacco display bans as being 'This is the nanny state going too far.' ? See:

Perhaps he needs reminding of this.

Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 18:02 | Unregistered CommenterUkipper

It was put right in the local newspaper this week it is a "personality cult". He can say what he likes, the Lib Dem vote continues to drop, but Norman has a wealth of information from case work to use around election time to remind them he's helped them out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 20:06 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

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