Diary of a Political Campaign

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Friday
Mar062015

Plain packaging: "The politicians have created a nightmare scenario"

Ahead of new week's vote by MPs on plain packaging the Sun has a major story about the policy potentially driving illicit trade in Northern Ireland.

The full report is behind a pay wall but here's a taste:

IRA kingpins stand to make millions from new plain tobacco packaging laws after building a secret network of illegal cigarette factories.

The terrorists are switching from importing fake fags to raw tobacco so they can produce their own product and massively increase their profit margins.

According to the Sun profits will 'soar from 90 million euro (£65 million) to 120 million euro (£87.5 million) within two years thanks to plain packaging'.

Following a recent raid on an illicit factory 'Two million cigarettes and £50,000 in cash were … seized':

Investigators believe the IRA has at least three more [factories] up and running and another four being built near Dundalk, Co Louth.

Interestingly:

Bosses can employ the skills of former workers at a Rothmans factory that closed there in 2008.

But here's the killer quote. According to a 'senior customs source':

"Plain packaging is not the solution, it's becoming the problem. It's a gift beyond imagination.

"Nothing moves across the border without the IRA taking a cut. This is putting tens of millions of pounds into the Real IRA's coffers.

"The politicians have created a nightmare scenario."

Emphasising the importance of the report the Sun even has a leader on the subject:

One certain outcome of the plain cigarette packaging experiment is that it'll be a gift for criminals.

But our investigation today reveals that IRA gangsters will be some of the biggest winners.

They have moved from smuggling to manufacturing because knocking off counterfeit packs will be a doodle.

That means even more profit from the two-fifths of illegal cigarettes thought to come from IRA criminals.

It's an unintended consequence of well-meaning health policy.

One certain outcome of the plain cigarette packaging experiment is that it'll be a gift for criminals. But our investigation today reveals that IRA gangsters will be some of the biggest winners.

The question is, do our politicians care?

Thursday
Mar052015

Is this why our PR PM rolled over?

Could this be true?

Via a well-connected MP and an intermediary I've heard that David Cameron was told by an anti-smoking group that if he didn't introduce plain packaging before the election he'd be followed throughout the campaign by a man dressed as a cigarette.

Needless to say, instead of telling the public health bullies to f-off, our PR PM rolled over. Again.

You couldn't make it up.

Thursday
Mar052015

MPs to vote on plain packaging next Wednesday

So, it seems MPs will get to vote on plain packaging next week, but there won't be a debate.

In the last hour the Telegraph's chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has reported that:

A ban on advertising on cigarette packets will become law through the House of Commons without a debate by MPs next week.

The controversial ban will be considered by a cross party committee of MPs on Monday and then – if the MPs agree – there will be a free vote without a debate on Wednesday.

The cross party committee that will consider the legislation is the House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee whose members are:

Chair: Sir Roger Gale (Conservative)
Debbie Abrahams (Labour)
Luciana Berger (Labour)
Kevin Brennan (Labour)
Mr Russell Brown (Labour)
Paul Burstow (Lib Dem)
Neil Carmichael (Conservative)
Alex Cunningham (Labour)
Nick de Bois (Conservative)
Jane Ellison, Public Health Minister (Conservative)
Sir Edward Garnier (Conservative)
Richard Harrington (Conservative)
John Penrose (Conservative)
Chris Ruane (Labour)
Sir Andrew Stunell (Lib Dem)
Phil Wilson (Labour)
Sammy Wilson (DUP)

By our reckoning only three are opposed to plain packaging. A fourth is against but he's a government whip so he'll vote in favour.

Not looking good, but we knew that anyway.

Wednesday
Mar042015

Irish parliament passes plain packaging laws

Ireland yesterday became the first country in Europe and the second in the world to pass plain packaging laws for tobacco.

Anti-smoking campaigners were quick to celebrate and they brought their children – bearing an assortment of PR friendly placards – with them. Now that's what I call child abuse!

Forest reacted as best we could. John Mallon, our man in Cork, appeared on RTE News and was interviewed on radio by Newstalk, and, this morning, Clare FM.

He also featured in news bulletins on the following stations: 4FM, FM104, Galway Bay FM, KCLR FM, Limerick 95FM, Northern Sound and Tipp FM.

On Monday he was interviewed on UTV Ireland Live with our old friend Dr Luke Clancy, formerly of ASH Ireland.

Forest Eireann's full response, issued yesterday, was:

Campaigners have urged the government to postpone the implementation of standardised packaging for cigarettes until ministers have assessed the impact of other tobacco control measures.

Legislation to introduce plain packaging will move a step closer to becoming law today but the smokers' group Forest Eireann wants the government to delay the introduction of the measure.

Spokesman John Mallon said: "The government should wait until it has assessed the impact of the larger health warnings that are being introduced next year as part of the European Union's revised Tobacco Products Directive.

"This legislation is the result of a personal crusade by children's minister James Reilly. It is deeply flawed. There's no evidence plain packaging will stop children smoking."

He added: "Evidence from Australia suggests that standardised packaging could fuel illicit trade by playing into the hands of counterfeiters and criminal gangs.

"Ultimately that could be far more harmful to children because criminals don't care who they sell to."

PS. I don't think John was impressed but this tweet made laugh.

Tuesday
Mar032015

WATCH: An Evening of Plain Speaking on Plain Packaging

Here it is, the video of Stop The Nonsense: An Evening of Plain Speaking on Plain Packaging at the Institute of Directors.

Dan Donovan has edited 98 minutes of footage into a twelve-minute film that features contributions from the eight speakers (and me).

Speakers included the IEA's Mark Littlewood; Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute; John O'Connell (TaxPayers Alliance); Angela Harbutt (Liberal Vision); and Chris Snowdon.

There are also soundbites from a handful of guests. Sorry we couldn't include more.

The video will be sent on DVD and memory stick to MPs and journalists. In addition to the main video (above), the DVD will feature every speech in full.

It will also feature Brian Monteith reading an anti plain pack message from former justice minister, the Rt Hon Damian Green MP.

I'll post a selection over the next few days.

Many thanks to Dan Donovan who has battled numerous other commitments (plus a heavy cold and fatigue!) to complete this time-consuming task. He was still emailing me at 4.00am on Monday morning.

Update: It's not too late to make your opinions known. If you haven't done so, please write to your MP via our Last Chance Saloon microsite.

Monday
Mar022015

Despite being a smoker, Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered

Forget taste and decency.

The propaganda value of the death of a well-known long-term smoker is far more important, it seems.

In January Joe Cocker's death, at the age of 70, was marked by some pretty distasteful tweets by anti-smoking campaigners (see Dick Puddlecote on the subject, Death as a PR opportunity).

The death last week of Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy has generated a similar reaction.

Nimoy was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allegedly from decades of smoking.

I don't doubt the connection (although the LA smog may have been a contributory factor, who knows?), but there are two things to note:

One, Nimoy died at the age of 83. The average life expectancy for a white American male is 76 years.

I don't know where Nimoy lived but the state with the best average life expectancy for a white American male is the District of Columbia at just shy of 81.

He might of course have lived in pain and discomfort for many years. Again, I don't know.

What I do know is that he was only diagnosed with lung disease in February 2014, at the age of 82, one year before he died, at which point he began urging everyone to quit smoking.

Nimoy's death at the ripe old age of 83 will come as no consolation to his family, but let's get it in perspective. He was an old man who appears to have lived a long and extremely full life.

That hasn't deterred the tobacco taliban of course, hence these tweets this morning from ASH:

Sunday
Mar012015

No plans to ban smoking in Old Market Square says Nottingham City councillor

A Nottingham City councillor has denied the council has plans to ban smoking in the city's Old Market Square.

In a letter to the Nottingham Post, published yesterday (but not online), Councillor Alex Norris wrote:

I would like to reiterate our position on smoke-free public places following the Post's front-page story of Saturday February 21.

While the Post article explained that this is not something the council is actively seeking to do, some people seem to have got the impression that we are. To be clear – we are not currently considering banning smoking on the Old Market Square.

The city council is committed to reducing smoking, as it is the single largest contributory factor to Nottingham's health inequalities and it is the cause of many unavoidable deaths.

We were one of the first councils in the country to introduce smoke-free playgrounds and they have played a part in a steady fall in adult smoking prevalence across the city from 39% in 2008 to 28% in 2013. We are always looking at ways to reduce this further, with a target of reducing it to 20% by 2020.

Last year we signed up to the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control which would allow us to consider using new legislation to build on the success of smoke-free playgrounds and designate other public places smoke-free, but only where local people want it.

However, we have no intention of banning smoking in the Old Market Square, or any other public places, unless there was significant public demand in the future. We would then, of course, listen and consult to see what might be appropriate, but we would not take any action to ban smoking in public places unless there was clear support for it.

Whilst I welcome Cllr Norris's letter, I remain concerned by the suggestion that the council might act if there is "clear support" for a ban. (Cue campaign by local anti-smoking groups.)

Some will argue this is democracy in action but I'm concerned that, increasingly, smokers will find their behaviour governed not by evidence-based health concerns but by the tyranny of the majority whose views will be dictated by whether they like the smell of tobacco smoke or are fooled into believing that the sight of a complete stranger sucking on a cigarette will convince some impressionable teenager to engage in a lifetime habit that, sooner or later, will result in a slow and painful death.

So good news for now but no room for complacency. In fact, if you live anywhere near Nottingham, I suggest you write to Cllr Norris, thank him, and make your opinion clear.

Friday
Feb272015

Cancer Research: shabby propaganda speaks volumes about tobacco control

Talking of risible and ridiculous (see previous post), Cancer Research UK has just scaled new heights.

According to the headline of a CRUK press release embargoed until a few minutes ago, 'Half a million children predicted to die from smoking as MPs head toward a vote on standard cig packs'.

The implication is that half a million children will die from smoking but standardised packaging could reduce that catastrophic loss of life in the under 18 age group.

Needless to say the headline is a crude and inaccurate sleight of hand:

Around 500,000 children will die from smoking when they are adults [my emphasis] unless more is done to cut smoking rates according to new Cancer Research UK figures released today (Friday).

Based on current smoking rates Cancer Research UK estimates that of today’s 12 million under 16 year olds, 2.7 million will become smokers as young adults. This could lead to around half a million smoking related deaths unless rates fall.

This shocking statistic has prompted the charity to renew its call for MPs to back the introduction of plain, standardised tobacco packaging when they vote on the issue in the coming weeks.

See what they've done?

To claim, in a eye-catching headline, that half a million children will die of smoking when they are really talking about adults, most of whom will live well into their sixties, seventies and even eighties, is pretty sick.

Forget the "shocking statistic". What's shocking is the depth to which the tobacco control industry will sink to force through a policy that an overwhelming majority of people have opposed in not one but two public consultations.

I'll be interested to see how much coverage this shabby piece of propaganda gets. In the meantime here's Forest's response, issued yesterday:

Campaigners urge government to postpone introduction of plain packaging

Campaigners have urged the government to postpone the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco until it has assessed the impact of the tobacco display ban and larger health warnings.

Responding to new figures from Cancer Research UK which claims "around 500,000 children will die from smoking when they are adults unless more is done to cut smoking rates", Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said:

"There's no evidence plain packaging will reduce youth smoking rates. Packaging isn't responsible for children smoking. It's mostly peer pressure, the influence of family members or the fact that some children will always want to experiment or rebel.

"Ninety-nine per cent of responses to last year's public consultation on plain packaging opposed the measure. That included retailers, unions and members of the public.

"The real scandal is the fact that the government is pressing ahead with a policy that has been rejected by an overwhelming majority of respondents to its own consultation.

"We urge the government to wait until it can assess the impact of the display ban, which is still being implemented, and larger health warnings which are being introduced next year as part of the European Union's revised Tobacco Products Directive."

Update: Via Dick Puddlecote and Guido Fawkes I have just learned that CRUK's "head lobbyist" earns £230k a year. Nice.

Update: CRUK's child-centred propaganda appears to have bombed. The only national media that appear to have covered the story are i, the condensed version of the Independent, and the Express.

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