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« Heart disease and smoking? It’s complicated | Main | Happy birthday, Ian Hunter »
Wednesday
Jun052019

Plain packaging on non-tobacco products? We did warn you!

Sky News, among others, has reported that:

Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks should be in plain wrappers, like cigarettes, to help combat preventable diseases.

That is one of the proposals in a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left-leaning think tank, which says the plain packaging would put unhealthy snacks on "a level playing field" with fruit and vegetables.

Is anyone surprised? Probably. In my experience the general public rarely wakes up to this sort of thing until it actually happens.

We did try to warn people, though.

In February 2012, a week before the launch of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, our researcher Amul Pandya wrote:

There is ... a significant danger that once the precedent has been set with plain packaging, similar legislation will be extended to other areas.

For instance, Dr Simon Chapman, the chief proponent and figurehead of plain packaging in Australia, has publicly stated he would like to see graphic health warnings on alcohol products.

In August that year Angela Harbutt, who also worked on the HOOPs campaign, noted:

“People aren’t stupid. They know that if tobacco is sold in dull, drab packs then alcohol, fast food and fizzy drinks will also be targeted."

In March 2013 I was quoted saying:

“Plain packaging is designed to denormalise a legal product and millions of adult consumers. What next? Alcohol, fizzy drinks and fast food?"

And in May 2016, responding to the news that tobacco companies had lost a high court battle over plain packaging, I made a similar point:

“If you don’t smoke but enjoy alcohol, sugary drinks and convenience food you should be concerned by this judgment because the health police are coming for you too.”

The IEA's Chris Snowdon was another who warned repeatedly of a "slippery slope". Tobacco companies also made the point that other products would be at risk once public health got a taste for plain packaging.

Time after time our argument was pooh-poohed by public health campaigners. According to the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids:

A key argument used in the tobacco industry media campaigns in many countries is that if plain packaging for tobacco is introduced, it sets a precedent for other consumer products, such as soft drinks, alcohol, or fatty foods. The argument is that plain packaging is a step too far towards a “nanny state” and will lead to reduced product innovation across all sectors. In this way, the tobacco industry tries to get support from the other industries in opposing the policy generally.

This argument is often put forward in campaigns and media articles by third-party organizations, posing as independent voices but which receive funding from the tobacco industry.

For instance, in the UK, the 'Hands Off Our Packs' campaign, run by Forest, strongly pushed this argument forward. The Institute for Economic Affairs, a libertarian think tank, hosted events and published papers opposing plain packaging, using the slippery slope argument. It was an issue regularly cited in media articles about those that oppose plain packaging.

Imperial Tobacco UK also deployed the slippery slope argument in an anti-plain packaging YouTube video advert in Britain — 2020 Vision (above).

The advert misleadingly suggests that by 2020 all products perceived to be unhealthy will be sold in plain packaging. The advert was promoted through the distribution of leaflets on petrol forecourts.

Hilariously this is part of a page that attempts 'to counter' (ie dismiss) these arguments.

As for the Institute for Public Policy Research, what can I say? As long ago as April 2007 I wrote:

Writing in the latest issue of Public Policy Research, the IPPR magazine, Observer columnist Jasper Gerrard says that Britain should consider raising the legal drinking age to 21. Failing that, he suggests making 18-year-olds carry smart cards "which record how much they have drunk each night and making it an offence to serve more alcohol to anyone under-21 who had already consumed more than three units". (Full report here.)

Can Gerrard be serious? Sadly, I think he is. Nor is he alone. His proposal is similar to one put forward by a doctor in Scotland who last year suggested that people should be limited to three units of alcohol when they go to the pub. The idea was dismissed as ludicrous and impractical but, thanks to Gerrard, the idea has resurfaced but with one significant 'improvement' - the smart card. Of course the idea is still ridiculous - and worryingly authoritarian - but others will no doubt repeat it in the hope that it gets taken up by campaigners and politicians who are either on a mission to 'protect' us from ourselves or will do anything to justify their existence.

I finished by urging readers to 'keep an eye on the IPPR':

Earlier this month Simon Retallack, the organisation's head of climate change, called for tobacco style health warnings to be displayed on holiday ads, warning people about the possible damage that flights and cars will do to the environment. What next? A ban on short-haul flights? Weekend breaks abroad? Or perhaps we'll be issued with a smart card that monitors how far we've travelled by car or plane and prevents us from going any further once we've reached our 'limit'.

See The IPPR's brave new world (Taking Liberties, April 2007).

Two years later, in March 2009, the IPPR published a report entitled 'Pubs and Places: the social value of community pubs'. I wrote about it here:

Supported by the likes of CAMRA and Alcohol Concern, the report found that the main factors contributing to the rise in pub closures include:

  • Competition from shops and supermarkets where alcohol is much cheaper, which has led to more people drinking at home
  • The current recession which has reduced pub incomes
  • Increases in tax on beer
  • The prices that some pub tenants have to pay the large pub companies for their beer
  • A fall in beer drinking and a growth in wine drinking
  • Increased regulation which small community pubs find the hardest to deal with

Remarkably, with over 50 pubs closing each week, the IPPR couldn't bring itself to mention the smoking ban which had been introduced less than two years earlier and was having a devastating impact on landlocked inner city pubs in particular (Smoking gun: is the smoking ban a major cause of the decline of the pub in Britain and Ireland?)

That, I think, tells you all you need to know about the IPPR. Now, ten years on, they're gunning for sweets, crisps and sugary drinks.

Fancy that.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for pointing this out time after time. It would be nice to see this article widely shared among members of Parliament and the devolved legislatures.

The social controllers and prohibitionists are dead set on imposing their ideology and practices on others at any cost. The result is a totalitarian mash-up of "Alice in Wonderland" with "1984".

The result? A denial of choice and evisceration of liberty in the quest for a 'healthist' utopia. But rather than actual improvements in health, the same diseases continue and in many cases their incidence rises, yielding a dystopian house of mirrors. The grifters gain power and profit and the public surrenders free choice for no tangible benefit.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 21:55 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Frankly, I am sick of saying "told you so." I now refuse to fight for the rights of anyone who will not fight for mine. Far too many anti nanny staters are still saying such crap as sweets can be consumed safely but tobacco cannot. Dose makes poison in all things. That should be the message because that is a fact. I am sick of being thrown under a bus by those who wish to save their own particular vice or have a personal dislike of smoking or smokers.

Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 13:17 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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