Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!


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Coming up … ASA set to publish adjudication on Forest complaint

Well, the waiting is nearly over.

Eighteen months after Forest submitted a complaint about a Department of Health advertisement that stated “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation", the Advertising Standards Authority is set to publish its long-awaited adjudication.

We've known the result for ten days but the ASA wanted to keep it under wraps until tomorrow, July 30.

Officially the adjudication is embargoed until one minute past midnight.

So check in later and all will be revealed.


Consultation countdown: 10 days to go

You have 10 days to respond to the Government's final consultation on plain packaging.

Following an announcement in April that the Government was 'minded" to introduce plain packaging, Forest invited you to write to David Cameron via our No, Prime Minister website.

Thousands of you have done so and we are very grateful for your support.

We have one final request. It is vital that you also register your opposition to plain packaging with the Department of Health.

We've created a special app that allows you to do so quickly and easily.

Click here.

Closing date for the consultation is Thursday August 7 but please do it now.

Note: if you have already written to the PM via the No, Prime Minister site simply untick the relevant box.


Can you put a value on your social life?

The Scottish Sun reports:

A furious smoker wants to sue the government for £1 million — claiming the ban on lighting up ruined his social life.

Alan Auld says he has been forced to give up his regular trips to the pub and has lost friends because of the law.

And the 69-year-old is asking for donations from other smokers to fund his court battle against ministers.

Dad-of-one Alan, of Aberdeen, said: “The smoking ban finished my social life. I’ve been going to pubs since 1961 and have smoked ever since I’ve been at school, but the smoking ban killed the pub experience for me.

“I used to go two or three times a week and it was a great way to see all my friends. I’ve only been in a pub five or six times since it’s been voted through. I’ve decided that it’s time to act."

Scotland was the first country in the UK to go smoke-free when the ban was introduced in March 2006.

Simon Clark, of smokers’ group Forest, said: “We get a lot of people telling us the ban has ruined their social life. I have great sympathy with Mr Auld, although I’m not sure if a court case is the best option."

The Scottish Government said the ban had “high public support".

See: Fag ban’s ruined my life.. now cough up (Scottish Sun)

I'm not sure I've anything to add to what I told the Sun. Alan Auld has a serious point but legal action – in this instance – is a mug's game.

Forest has been there, done that, and seen the bills.

For example, when I first became director I discovered we were supporting (not financially, thankfully) a smoker who was taking a train company to court so he could smoke on his commuter train.

He went all the way to the High Court, losing at every stage but determined to fight on, like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

We fell out because I decided enough was enough. His stubbornness cost him tens of thousands of pounds and, PR wise, it didn't help that he had a hacking smoker's cough which was accompanied by some pretty serious wheezing.

Not the greatest advertisement for his habit!

Later, in 2007, Forest was criticised in some quarters for not taking legal action over the smoking ban. Believe me, we were privy to legal advice and the advice was pretty straightforward.

The one group who may have had a case against government were not consumers but publicans whose pubs had no outdoor facility because the smoking ban left them at a commercial disadvantage to pubs that did.

In other words, the smoking ban is not a level playing field (whatever the British Beer and Pub Association would have us believe).

The problem was we would have had to find a publican willing to take on the challenge, not to mention the cost – six figures or more – and they weren't exactly queuing up.

Anyway, I'm struck by Alan Auld's valuation of his social life. Can you really put a price on it, and the alleged loss of friends?

At the very least it's an interesting debate.


Mother on Sunday

You learn something new every day.

I knew my father smoked when he was a young man. It would have been unusual for him not to. In the Fifties, after all, 80 per cent of men were smokers.

He gave up around the time I was born but I don't think he was ever a heavy smoker.

At work for example it is said he would light a cigarette and after a couple of puffs he'd leave it smouldering in the ashtray on his desk.

My mother however never smoked. Or so I thought.

Today she told me she was indeed a smoker but gave up "when I left school".

News to me!


Plain packaging "gold plating" EU policy

Attention, eurosceptics.

One of Forest's arguments against plain packaging is that it's unnecessary because the EU's revised Tobacco Products Directive will do a very similar job.

From 2016, when the revised TPD is implemented, the health warning will cover 65 per cent of the front and back of the pack, leaving very little room for branding.

The relevant paragraph in our campaign letter, which thousands of you have been sending to the PM, reads:

Before pressing ahead with legislation I urge you to wait until government has studied the impact of the tobacco display ban, which will not be fully implemented until 2015, and the introduction of larger health warnings which are being introduced in 2016 as part of the EU's revised Tobacco Products Directive.

This morning the Regulatory Policy Committee published an analysis of the Government's impact assessment on plain packaging.

There are several references to the TPD including this admission:

As noted above, the preferred option is to go beyond the European Tobacco Products Directive and require standardised tobacco packaging of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco. By going beyond minimum EU requirements, the Department is gold-plating the measure.

Think about that for a moment.

Our Conservative-led Coalition is currently "minded" to introduce a policy that not only goes "beyond minimum EU requirements" but is "gold-plating the measure".

You can download the RPC analysis here.

You'll see that the RPC has given the impact assessment on plain packaging an amber rating.

Green rated IAs are considered ‘fit for purpose’. Red IAs are ‘not fit for purpose.

Amber IAs are ‘fit for purpose’ on condition that changes are made to the IA. In this instance, for example, the RPC wants a "fuller description of EU Tobacco Products Directive … This would allow readers to understand better where the proposed measure goes beyond the Directive".

Strange, isn't it, that this wasn't made clear in the original IA? Perhaps the Government didn't want people to know.

Now you do. Spread the word.


Plain packaging could have unintended consequences, says branding expert

There was an interesting discussion about plain packaging on RTE Radio 1 yesterday.

It featured Kathleen O'Meara of the Irish Cancer Society; Sandy Dunlop, an Irish-based "branding expert"; and Forest's John Mallon.

John did a great job but he and O'Meara said pretty much what you would expect them to say, so it was Dunlop's contribution that particularly caught my ear.

He began by agreeing with Ireland's former health minister James Reilly who was quoted saying the cigarette box is the "last billboard" for cigarette companies.

After a brief debate about the importance of Marlboro Man, Dunlop suddenly changed tack and warned of the negative consequences of plain packaging. It's worth quoting in full:

Another issue is if you go too hard on an area you could make the category cool because of its prohibition. An example would be drinking in the States when they had Prohibition.

You gotta ask why do people do things. One of the reasons people smoke is because it's enjoyable to them. For many people it's community and friendship and if you push and push and push you might introduce the category as being exciting and adventurous.

So you can do something for one reason and have an unintended consequence that you didn't predict. Drinking in the States in the time of Prohibition would not only have been enjoyable, it could have been exciting and adventurous which is why people did these things.

Asked by the steadfastly impartial stand-in presenter Keelin Shanley, "Is there any evidence that getting rid of the branding will work?", Dunlop replied:

I don't really know what the evidence is. What I would do is why not use the techniques and marketing and some of the amazing insights from neuroscience and behavioural economics to make smoking uncool and make other behaviours cool by focussing on health?

I think that in Ireland it's actually happened around drink driving where the younger generation [accept] it is not cool to drink and drive.

I think there's other more positive ways. If you push and push and push against something you start having unintended negative consequences that you didn't predict and it may be that if all this does is make smuggling easier you're having a negative effect that you didn't intend, so I would put the energy into how branding works, and understanding that, to make other activities cool, make health cool, and the consequences of that could be smoking becomes less and less cool.

So there we have it – a "branding expert" spells out one of the negative consequences of plain packaging and suggests a better policy might be to "make health cool".

I'm not sure I would give the state that responsibility but the principle – accentuate the positive – makes sense.

Click here for the full discussion.


Tributes for John Blundell

Sorry to hear that John Blundell, former Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, has died. He was only 61.

Our paths crossed occasionally but I can't say I knew him. He once interviewed me (sort of) for a job as PR consultant to the IEA, but that was the longest conversation we ever had, and I did most of the talking!

A mutual friend was Lord Harris of High Cross, chairman of Forest for 20 years but better known as one of the founders of the IEA.

It was John who announced Ralph's death in November 2006 when the IEA issued this statement.

He was also master of ceremonies at Ralph's memorial service in February 2007 when speakers included former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Howe, Lord Tebbit, journalists Andrew Alexander (Daily Mail) and Simon Heffer (Daily Telegraph), and many more.

How nice it would be if a similar service could be held in John's honour at the same venue – St John’s, Smith Square, London – just around the corner from the IEA.

The IEA has posted a short announcement and a lengthy obituary on its website.

The Adam Smith Institute has posted a tribute by Madsen Pirie: John Blundell 1952-2014.

ConservativeHome has also paid its respects: John Blundell, the man who helped to form the IEA, is dead.

So too the Atlas Network, In Memoriam: John Blundell (1952-2014).

PS. That job 'interview' was more of a PR pitch. I did it at the suggestion of Lord Harris but I think John was slightly horrified by some of our proposals!

Instead he made an internal appointment and the moment passed. C'est la vie.


Standing up for freedom with Conservatives for Liberty

Pleased to report that Forest is joining forces with Conservatives for Liberty at the Tory conference in Birmingham.

On Sunday September 28 we're co-hosting a special event, The Liberty Lounge: Stand Up For Freedom, at the Hyatt Hotel.

In 2011 and 2013 Forest hosted a dedicated hour of stand up comedy (Stand Up for Liberty) at The Comedy Store in Manchester.

In the absence of a similar venue this year's event will combine a drinks reception with half an hour of stand up comedy.

Well, that's the plan.

Conservatives for Liberty was set up last year. Following the launch party honorary president Dan Hannan MEP tweeted:

"I reckon @con4lib is now the most exciting movement in UK politics."

According to journalist and peer Matt Ridley:

"A new generation of young people is reviving true liberalism today. Conservatives for Liberty are pioneers of this movement and I learned more from an evening in a pub with them than from any amount of time in Parliament."

Steve Baker MP wrote:

"All too many people believe in liberty up to the point that their faith is tested. As a result, we have been losing the arguments for most of the past century. CfL could be an important part of the restoration that our country needs."

Emily Barley, secretary of CfL, says: "We're thrilled to be working with Forest, that bastion of personal choice, on this not-so-serious event - a fun opportunity to Stand Up For Freedom and show your love for liberty."

Full announcement here.

Our other conference event takes place on Monday September 29. It's called 'Last Chance Saloon'. Make of that what you will.

If you're attending the Conservative conference make a note in your diary now. More details in due course.

See also: CfL joins forces with Forest at #CPC14

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