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Word to the not so wise - be careful what you wish for

They never give up, do they?

Earlier this week Sir Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health and a member of the APPG on E-Cigarettes, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill.

It’s competing for parliamentary time with 149 other Private Members’ Bills so the chances of it being adopted are very small. It’s instructive nevertheless of the direction tobacco control and their supporters in parliament want to go so it’s worth monitoring, if nothing else.

The first reading of the Tobacco Bill 2017-19 took place on Tuesday and parts of it could have been, and possibly were, drafted by ASH.

Then again other bits could have been suggested by Philip Morris and the Foundation for a Smoke Free World so make of that what you will.

If adopted the Bill would ‘require the Secretary of State to report on means of requiring tobacco companies to meet the costs of smoking cessation services; to make provision about the advertising and marketing of products that are alternatives to tobacco; to require tobacco companies to publish information about their activities in relation to such products; to create an offence of selling tobacco without a licence; and for connected purposes.’

Speaking in support of the Bill, Barron declared:

We must recognise that the tobacco companies have been extremely dishonest in the past about the harm caused by smoking. Tobacco companies have made a fortune selling cigarettes and they have got the country into this mess. I believe it is only right that they get us out of it. We should and must follow the simple principle of the polluter pays. They have the resources and the customer base to help smoking cessation tools get straight to the people who need them most.

The proposed tobacco transition fund would work in a similar way to the carbonated drinks industry fund, providing incentives for both individual consumers and the tobacco industry to change their behaviour. Over the next decade or so, such a fund could raise up to £1 billion, which would be spent primarily on cessation services in the areas with the highest smoking prevalence. The fund would be paid for by the major tobacco companies according to their market share. The fund would remain at the same level, regardless of the number of smokers in the UK, thereby making it increasingly costly for any company that wished to continue selling cigarettes as the number of smokers declined. The vast majority of the fund would be passed directly to local authorities to fund cessation services, with a particular focus on those with the highest rates of prevalence.

The fund could also provide extra ring-fenced money to Public Health England to promote switching by funding independent research, with the aim of promoting popular understanding and awareness of non-combustible products. The final element of the fund would be to support trading standards in its ongoing efforts to combat illicit trade in combustible tobacco, with the investment based on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment of local need and impact. The fund would need a robust and independent governance structure to oversee spending by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and local authorities. It would also require accurate reporting by the manufacturers of their efforts to switch consumers. This could include publication of sales data, and research and development spend ...

We must also look at reducing access to harmful tobacco products that are still being sold. At the moment, there is no requirement in England to have a licence or to register with a local authority to sell tobacco. Scotland has a model that requires registration, which is relatively simple to complete and free for retailers so that it does not hit small businesses. Introducing a register in England would strengthen tobacco control, making it a criminal offence to sell tobacco without being registered. If retailers sell illicit tobacco or sell to minors, they could then be struck off the register altogether.

You can read the full statement here but it's worth highlighting two of the main points.

One, Barron wants a tobacco levy. This of course will be passed on to the consumer who already pays an astronomical level of tax on tobacco. The fund will pay for smoking cessation services and effectively underwrite the tobacco control industry for decades to come.

Two, he wants restrictions on the number of retailers that are allowed to sell tobacco and a limit on the number of tobacconists in certain locations including, I imagine, residential areas. Again, the impact on smokers – not to mention convenience stores – could be substantial.

Thankfully Conservative MP Philip Davies, an old friend of Forest and someone who brings a sceptical eye to such initiatives, was present to point out a few home truths:

The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the House should require the Secretary of State to report on how he is making the tobacco industry pay for smoking cessation services. One is tempted to ask how much more than £12 billion the Rt Hon Gentleman wants or expects, but of course what he is calling for is some kind of levy on tobacco, which he and a few others have repeatedly asked this and previous Governments about in the House. Indeed, such a question was asked only last month by Rachael Maskell, so clearly Members are having no difficulty in holding the Government to account on this issue, and I certainly do not think that we need a new Bill to help us ...

On the advertising and promotion of alternatives to smoking, such as e-cigarettes, the Rt Hon Gentleman will be aware that the Government has already committed to examining how they can better support smokers with clear information after we leave the EU and once we are no longer held back by the outdated thinking of the EU’s tobacco products directive - yet another benefit of leaving. The best thing that a smoker can do, of course, is to quit smoking altogether, but it is obvious that those who cannot, or do not want to, deserve to be told the truth about e-cigarettes and other products that could offer them a less harmful alternative. At present, the law prevents manufacturers from giving them that information, but I hope that once we leave the EU, we will be able to change that.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asks for the introduction of a tobacco licensing scheme, with tough penalties, but again that simply is not needed. The Government are already at work on implementing a Europe-wide system to track and trace tobacco products. That system will require that manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers are all registered on a public database as “economic operators” in order to handle tobacco. That is a de facto licensing scheme anyway, and it does everything that is needed to support trading standards enforcement against unscrupulous criminals who sell smuggled tobacco or sell tobacco to children—with a bit of luck, we will see a few more of them behind bars as a result. I certainly hope that anyone who is caught committing such crimes would be automatically struck off the list and rendered unable to legally handle tobacco.

Despite Davies’ well-judged comments the Bill received an enthusiastic welcome from one body that ought to know better but has not, it seems, considered the long-term consequences.

The expression 'be careful what you wish for' is over-used but in this case it’s entirely appropriate.

The second reading of the Bill is scheduled to take place on Friday November 23. I’ll keep you posted.

PS. You can watch the introduction of Sir Kevin Barron’s Ten Minute Rule Bill by clicking on this BBC iPlayer link.

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Reader Comments (7)

Crminalsation of consumers is coming. They will get what they want. They always do. No one else is allowed a say - and certainly not those most likely to be affected. I wonder how long it will be before smokers find the UK a country that is no longer safe to live in given the hate campaign incited against us and stupid exclusions for no reason other than spite, the health inequalities that have been created for us to ensure we cannot ventually access healthcare that wexwere always previously entitled to, and the campaign pushed by thugs like Barron to ensure we are treated less human than others and without any of the same human rights enjoyed by others. I think we may have only 10 years left before we face getting kicked out or forced into exile abroad. What a lovely, tolerant and compassionate country this used to be. Everything that once made us proud has gone. Bullying and discrimination are now law.

Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 12:19 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

The tobacco companies brought this on themselves with the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement in the U.S. in 1998. The suit itself was nothing more than a dog & pony show to start with. The whole premise of the suit was for the states to recover the costs of treating non-insured smokers. They could have done that themselves with an increase on their tobacco taxes. The true motive was to paint tobacco companies as the bad guys. Most people are too ignorant to even know the difference between criminal and civil trials, so the MSM trumpeted it as the 'BIG TOBACCO TRIAL'. Then tobacco settled, screwing their own customers in return for limited further liability. In other words, they went cheap. Now they are paying for their lack of fore site.

Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 13:04 | Unregistered CommenterScott Ewing

The tobacco control cartel (ASH and the co-conspirators in the so-called PHE and FCTC) are the ones that have been extremely dishonest. They exaggerated and manipulated data, suppressed dissenting findings, and relied on relentless propaganda to further their political attack on smokers and tobacco companies. Tobacco control lies must be exposed and the persecution of those that choose to enjoy tobacco must end.

Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 20:08 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

" ... an enthusiastic welcome from one body that ought to know better "

Sorry if I'm being dim here, but which "body" in particular were you referring to?

Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 23:35 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Apologies, Misty, I’d like to say but naming them would probably be counter-productive. Generally I try to build bridges not destroy them! The aim of the post was simply to highlight the nature of the Bill and the potential folly of supporting it. My hope is that they will read it and take note.

Monday, November 5, 2018 at 10:39 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

I hope so too Simon but we cannot get past the fact that no matter what we say, or forest as our only representative, the Govt refuses to listen. Perhaps you need to apply for permission to speak from Debs Arnott.

Monday, November 5, 2018 at 11:48 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

"We must recognise that the tobacco companies have been extremely dishonest in the past about the harm caused by smoking."


I have never found any evidence that the tobacco companies
have ever denied the claims of the tobacco control industry on the basic claims that smoking causes diseases x,y and z in smokers.

They would rather use "volenti non fit injuria" as their first line of defense in any potential litigation. It is precisely because the tobacco companies have never denied these claims (to my knowledge) that there is little point in them spending a serious amount money on mounting a serious scientific examination of the claims of the tobacco control industry, when they could not be sure of the outcome.

So the tobacco control industry can claim that smoking causes anything from lung cancer to collywobbles and there is no one being paid to really challenge these claims. That is why the tobacco control industry is so powerful.

This has resulted in a catastrophic failure of science, IMO, that has led to the deaths of millions of non smokers over the decades because they are not diagnosed with disease that health professionals perceive to be caused by smoking. Lung cancer being a standout example of this decades old public health disaster.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 18:47 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

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