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Supermarket sweep: MP wants ban on sale of tobacco in major chains

I'm currently in Brussels for reasons that will become clear in six weeks or so.

On Monday, before I caught the train to Belgium, I was booked in to a small studio at BBC Cambridgeshire to take part in a discussion on BBC Wiltshire.

Local MP Dr Andrew Murrison (Conservative) wants the government to ban the sale of tobacco in supermarkets.

Dr Murrison is a medical doctor. Prior to becoming an MP he was a surgeon commander in the Royal Navy.

But that's no excuse. Like many politicians Murrison seeks to impose his own agenda on ordinary people in the name of 'health'.

When I was invited to do the interview I was told there was almost no support for his proposal. According to the researcher I spoke to they had struggled to find anyone who agreed with it.

Come the broadcast the BBC had not only managed to find some opposing voices, they were the first soundbites from local residents:

Male: I think it’s a very good idea.

Male: Yes, I think where there is proof of concern and when people are walking about, yes, definitely. We have to change, don’t we?

Female: Why is he taking away something from somebody just because it's bad for them? I will just go somewhere else to buy them. It won’t put me off.

Male: There are a lot worst things in supermarkets than cigarettes. If it's going to be a ban on cigarettes why isn’t there a ban on alcohol?

Female: Well, you wouldn’t get so many children. You know they get people to get it for them, don’t they? Things like that.

Male: If supermarkets stop selling cakes then lot of people won’t be so fat.

Female: Guess it will push the price up if they have got to go to the little corner shop or whatever.

Female: I think it’s a step too far. I think people need to make your own mind up.

Male: I don’t think it encourages people to smoke in the supermarkets. It just makes it inconvenient. I will just say let them carry on.

Male: To roll it out across the country will be a huge cost. Where would the cost come from? Would it come out of the taxpayers yet again? I will still buy it from my local corner shop.

Here's the rest of the item:

Ben Prater, presenter: Dr Andrew Murrison joins us on BBC Radio Wiltshire, good morning.

Dr Andrew Morrison MP: Good morning.

Prater: And Simon Clark from the pro-choice group Forest. Simon Clark, good morning.

Simon Clark: Good morning.

Prater: Dr Murrison, why bring this suggestion to play now?

Murrison: Well the important thing to understand is that people who are poor will die nine years earlier than people who are relatively well off and half of that is due to differences in smoking. That is an extraordinary statistic and if we're going to get real about health inequalities we really do have to start there.

Prater: And it's not good enough to try to educate people? You actually want to deny people the opportunity?

Murrison: No, I don’t want to deny them but we do need a tobacco strategy which is something the government has been promising since the summer of last year and we are yet to see it. So we need this thing urgently and within that I want to see a number of things. I certainly want to see a commitment to an increase in price of tobacco because that certainly does alter people's behaviour in relation to consumption and I think it's appropriate to look at where tobacco is sold and frankly I don't think its acceptable for tobacco to be sold alongside foodstuffs. I just don't think that's right.

Prater: Simon Clark from Forest, your reaction to all that?

Clark: Well, what Dr Murrison is basically advocating is creeping prohibition and I am sure that’s his long-term goal. We saw with prohibition of alcohol in the United States it simply doesn't work because you drive a habit underground and this would not stop people buying tobacco. They will find it somewhere else and it will probably drive a lot of people into the hands of the black marketeers, the gangs who sell illicit tobacco on the black market. It's also designed to make it difficult for people to smoke. Now tobacco is a perfectly legal product. Smokers already pay a huge sum of money, £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation, and when Dr Murrison talks about increasing taxation what he actually wants to do is make poor people even poorer by forcing them to pay even more for something they enjoy consuming.

Prater: Dr Murrison, what about that black market, and we have got a few texts actually this morning from people saying that they're appalled at the number of sort of duty free fag outs on places like Facebook these days. That will only increase, won’t it?

Murrison: Well, I think it certainly needs to be hand in hand with any even greater attempt to reduce tobacco on the black market, that’s for sure. But Forest uses the standard excuse. Really and truly the two are the same. We need to make sure the black marketeers are dealt with but we also need to reduce the amount of tobacco consumption. If we're serious about public health, and the government says it is, it really has to start here because the cigarettes are way above any other thing that we consume in our lives poses a direct threat to health. It causes a huge amount of premature death through cancer, of course you know that famously, but also heart attacks to rouge all of the captains of the men of death are promoted by smoking and we either get to grips with it now or we simply throw up our hands and say nothing could be done.

Prater: I am sorry, Simon Clark, let me just ask you, is it striking to hear a Conservative MP sort of, you know, question whether the government is serious about public health?

Clark: No, not at all. I don’t think it makes any difference whether you are Labour or Conservative [but] I find it strange to hear a Conservative MP trying to dictate to a business like a supermarket what they're allowed to sell. Dr Murrison talked about urging the government to introduce a new tobacco strategy. For heaven's sake, over the last ten years we've had a raft of legislation and anti-tobacco measures starting with the smoking ban, then we had the display ban, and we've currently got plain packaging being introduced. I mean, a whole range of things. Now we've already got a display ban in supermarkets so cigarettes are not in sight of customers. They certainly don't encourage people to take up smoking, but let's have a review of existing policies before we charge ahead and introduce new policies. This just sounds like another MP on a bit of a personal crusade. He's got no public mandate for this sort of policy and politicians really have to start representing their constituents, not going on these sort of personal crusades. He is so patronising about ordinary consumers. People are well aware of the health risks of smoking. They have been aware for absolute decades. We see health warnings all over the place. People have to be allowed to make their own choices and that’s what disappoints me.

Prater: Let me just step in there Simon Clark. I mean, has he got a point there, Dr Murrison? Janette on our Facebook thread this morning says what's the difference between supermarkets selling and the corner shop is a half and half idea. Why doesn’t the MP expend his energy into better mental health funding, at turning more social housing, something that really is needed by lots of people?

Murrison: Well, this of course costs the country money because it costs the NHS dearly because it picks up the tab ultimately. It's not being patronising to try to improve public health. That is what government has a mandate to do, that is what government is in part there to do, and I'm afraid we have to accept that of all the lifestyle things that we have at the moment smoking is one of the most pernicious and were there a substance to be introduced today most certainly would not get any sort of statutory approval. It would be banned outright and I think now we need to get to grips with this otherwise there's no point in pouring huge sums of money, which I certainly support, into the National Health Service if we're not dealing with the problem at source.

Prater: Do you, Simon Clark, think there's any kind of hypocrisy when it comes right to choose towards smoking and alcohol?

Clark: Oh, undoubtedly. I mean we've heard about the so-called cost to the NHS. Yes, I'm sure there are some costs to the NHS in terms of dealing with smoking-related diseases, but let's be clear. Smokers more than pay their way in society. They contribute over £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation compared to the alleged cost of the treatment of smoking-related diseases which is said to be to be £2.75bn. So that's a massive net contribution that smokers make to society. There are lots of things in life that are potentially risky to our health. Now clearly the health risks of smoking are higher than many other things but what we've seen all the time is a slippery slope where politicians interfere and try to dictate to ordinary people how they live their lives and surely, if we have learnt something from the last 12 months in politics, it's that many ordinary people are fed up of the establishment and MPs telling them how to live their lives. This is just another example of it.

Prater: What about that kind of perception of double standards, Dr Murrison? You want us to be healthy but you quite like the £12bn pounds of duty that it brings in?

Murrison: First thing to say is there are plenty of things which government has seen fit to ban. I am thinking of various forms of drugs and I'm thinking of seat belts, for example. So it's not the case that there is no precedent for making it more difficult to indulge in a behaviour which is frankly harmful. Look, I've seen people with lung cancer, it isn’t very nice, it's a pretty unpleasant way to go and I'll do everything I possibly can to reduce the toll this pernicious material takes on people. I didn’t go into medicine or indeed in the politics simply to allow this sort of thing to continue ad infinite. Yes, I will do what I can to reduce people's smoking consumption and I'm really pleased that the figures, particular in Wiltshire, have come down recently. So there is evidence of some sort of impact but if we are really going to deal with this then we need to, I'm afraid, ramp up our efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, particularly among the most disadvantaged, because the figures that worry me most are the people who are having years and years and years knocked off their lives and it's particularly the poor that are affected by that.

Prater: Dr Andrew Morrison, thank you. Simon Clark from Forest as well, thank you for coming on.

Before Christmas Murrison admitted having a meeting with the taxpayer-funded lobby group ASH. Now he is urging the government to publish its new tobacco control plan, just like them.

Peronally I can't understand why the government needs another tobacco control plan. Standardised won't packaging won't be fully introduced until May 2017; ditto the ban on ten-packs and larger health warnings.

Surely it would be prudent to wait and see what impact those and other policies have before embarking on another spree?

Does anyone really know what impact (if any) the display ban has had? Or the ban on cigarette vending machines? Or the ban on smoking in cars with children? I've not seen any evidence.

Instead the likes of ASH, Public Health England, Cancer Research and Dr Andrew Murrison want the government to plough on regardless.

If Britain's armed forces adopted a similar policy (marching on without reviewing previous battles) it would provoke outrage. And yet that is exactly the strategy a former surgeon commander in the Royal Navy wants the government to follow.

As things stand public health minister Nicola Blackwood says an announcement is due shortly, although it's not clear what "shortly" means.

My message to Blackwood is, take all the time in the world. The public has had their say and it couldn't be clearer (Enough Is Enough: Attitudes to UK Smoking Pollcies).

Last but not least, if anyone genuinely thinks a new tobacco control plan is a priority they clearly haven't been reading the news.

I rest my case.

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Reader Comments (12)

This guy is clearly is a muppet. All that will happen if this was accomplished is that the smaller retail shops would sell more goods as they would still sell tobacco, also the old style tobacconist shops would return.

In any case, I cannot see the big supermarktet chains agreeing to this

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 19:14 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

We smoke and we vote. With no party sure of its traditional support, during this extraordinary time in politics, politicians should beware of putting the ideological causes of astroturf public health lobbyists before those of their ordinary voters. They may find they get Trumped by the public which is fed up at being nagged, bullied and cajoled by an unelected quango and its pet MPs.

Enough is enough. It is clear they are pushing for tobacco to be criminalised under the guise of a tobacco control plan and the consumer alongside it via total tobacco prohibition step by step. No doubt they will then sip happily on their Prosecco and pat themselves on their own smug backs, lanyards dangling in appreciation of each other's job title.

Sickening. Absolutely nauseating.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 19:20 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

There is no end to these prats is there. Lucky for Murrison that he isn't my MP. I'd be booking a face to face meeting at his surgery to discuss the matter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 20:02 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

"but also heart attacks to rouge all of the captains of the men of death are promoted by smoking"

Did the MP have a stroke during this interview?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 20:49 | Unregistered CommenterRob Heyes

They really only need look as far as San Francisco, California for their model of a plan that is working. San Francisco used the excuse that people going into a pharmacy do not want or need to see tobacco products because they are the opposite of practicing good health and thus offensive.

So the sale of ANY tobacco product was thusly banned, all over San Francisco City and County.

Then that was extended to any grocery stores which also contained a pharmacy, all tobacco products were banned from being sold.

For any tobacco license, when a tobacco store was sold or owner retired, the tobacco license could not be sold, renewed or transferred to anyone else, thus outlawing all smaller places that sold tobacco from being in business anymore upon time the business was sold, until such time, no more tobacco shops would remain.

It greatly devalued the worth of tobacco shops too, meaning people who owned them their entire lives, now found their retirement source, from sale of premises, reduced, because the license allowing the sale of tobacco was being permanently revoked upon transfer of ownership.

Then San Francisco did a fake study in which they determined cigarette butts were the main source of all litter in the city and county and used that as their excuse to tack on a one dollar fee to every pack sold, calling it a fee to circumvent the federal prohibition upon local entities taxing tobacco and claiming it was for all the additional garbage clean up required due to cigarette butts.

Then came the outdoor smoking bans, indoor already banned for close to two decades by that time. They cited overlapping city, county and state codes from various departments and agencies, all designed to overlap enough such that if one such ban were done away with as law, then all the others would still pertain.

Thusly came illegal to smoke within 25 feet of a building with doors or windows, illegal to smoke outdoor on the beach, illegal to smoke in a square, park or plaza, the most onerous of the bans since the fine was $500 and public service duty if caught more than once breaking it. A lot of 80 and 90 year olds in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown got caught up in the occasional crackdowns which came unannounced when the police would show up to begin fining them all.

To extend things further, they eventually made it legal to only smoke outdoors, at the edge of the curb, off the sidewalk and where traffic was zooming by at high speed, more likely for the smokers to be hit and killed by automobile traffic that way.

And as they narrowed streets to discourage automobile use entirely, forcing even the elderly and disabled to hobble around by foot or bus as their main UN directed goal, mini-parks began popping up on block after block, where former parking spaces were built over by decks, fenced in to the benefit of smoke-less dull coffee shops nearby and of course creating more banned smoking areas due to their park-let designation and no curb there from which to smoke.

There are scenes in San Francisco where people can be seen walking totally nude down the sidewalk and nobody blinks an eye. But let someone light up a cigarette and the minute that puff of smoke goes up in the air, people begin fake coughing, hand waving as if toxic, giving dirty looks and even threatening the poor smoker with actual words of violence if they do not "get away" from the person so offended.

They will create that sort of environment, unfriendly, cold, uninviting except to the prohibitionist mind set and nasty people, usually wealthy while the poor have been pushed out and thus create a one party one class system by which all comrades do not smoke while all those outside the one party one class system are destined for deportation and destruction.

They simply hate smokers and always will. They are a nasty lot. And your central planners there just need to take a good look at the kind of UN planned fake paradise they have turned San Francisco into, which in eyes of a smoker, would be seen as an undesirable, non-welcoming hell hole and hardly a paradise to be imitated.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 21:32 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Rob, I suspect there was an error in transcription (it came from a media monitoring agency). I'll check against the original recording.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 21:35 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

"... people who are poor will die nine years earlier than people who are relatively well off and half of that is due to differences in smoking. That is an extraordinary statistic and if we're going to get real about health inequalities we really do have to start there."

An extraordinary, yet very suspect statistic. Similar gaps in death ages are found between rich and poor never smokers. Now, smoking is more prevalent among lower socioeconomic strata, who tend to live shorter lives but also have on average more stressful lifestyles.

Effects of lifestyles are very difficult to quantify because (unlike communicable disease) involve countless confounding factors that cannot be possibly included. Any claim of how much the death age gap between rich and poor comes from higher smoking prevalence is, at best, a very gross estimate. To say with so much confidence that "one half" of it comes from smoking and some other % from x or y cause is ludicrous. These rough guesses strongly depend on the samples and on the assumptions on "weight factors" of confounders that Pubic Health researchers assign to each cause. All these figures (like X death per year from smoking) do not refer to real people with death certificates, but are obtained through computer programs (like SAMMEC) whose statistical analysis critically depends on such assumptions. One day the bluff will be called on this political manipulation of statistics.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 4:00 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

After they have eliminated all the imaginary costs to the NHS, i.e. Smoking, alcohol and obesity will they then turn to eliminating the real costs?

The worst of all being old age, Logan's Run here we come.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 9:07 | Unregistered CommenterBemused

This stupid Tory lives off tax from products. Who the hell is he to say that a product cannot be bought just because he doesn't like it. I do not like him or his ridiculous interfering party. Government has harmed itself with the anti-business, bullying nanny state.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 16:07 | Unregistered Commentergray

What about the impact on sales at the supermarkets? CVS banned tobacco in its stores - and the knock on effect was considerable...

Monday, January 30, 2017 at 9:17 | Unregistered CommenterMark Butcher

The most pertinent question was not asked:

"How does banning tobacco sales at a certain type of store automatically guarantee that fewer people will smoke, or that the people who do smoke will smoke less?"

These initiatives, quite obviously, do nothing to advance the stated goals of those who advocate them. They are merely intended to harass people who wish to engage in behaviors of which the majority doesn't approve.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 3:10 | Unregistered CommenterNate

I don't think the majority could care less about smokers or smoking. Most people who don't like smoke don't care if we have smoker indoor meeting places as long as they can have places where smokers won't smoke.

A rabid minority doesn't approve of smokers smoking anywhere at all, even outdoors, and employs intolerance and abuse to force others over to their view. A rabid minority think smokers should be able to smoke anywhere they like without consideration but most normal, rational and tolerant people still believe there should be choice for both those who love smoking and those who hate it.

The majority enjoy being with people whether smokers or non smokers.

Don't fall for the majority hates smokers line put out by propagandists at ASH. It just isn't true.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 12:34 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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