Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Friday
Jul252014

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.

Friday
Jul252014

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.

Wednesday
Jul232014

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.

Wednesday
Jul232014

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

Tuesday
Jul222014

Forest's renaissance man releases new album

If you've attended a Forest event in recent years you'll almost certainly have seen or even met Dan Donovan.

He's an unapologetic smoker who first contacted us in 2007 offering support.

Since then we've built up what I think is a great working relationship.

I call him Forest's renaissance man.

He's our regular photographer.

He films and edits our campaign videos.

He's a graphic designer who produces most of our promotional and campaign material.

He's also a musician who writes, records and plays live with his own band, King Kool.

Yesterday they released their fourth album, Scuzz Bombe.

I love the artwork but if I'm honest the band's brand of garage/punk/scuzz is not entirely my cup of tea.

From time to time however Dan suggests a track I absolutely love.

One was 'Nanny Town', which we adapted for our first Hands Off Our Packs campaign video.

A bluesier version was also used as the backing track on our Plain Packs Plain Stupid video, released in March.

The latest King Kool track I've fallen for is 'Buzzin Me' from the new album. I heard it for the first time yesterday and I'm playing it for the umpteenth time on my laptop as I write.

Dan suggested we feature it on a new Forest video to be unveiled at the Conservative conference in September.

Great idea!

In the meantime visit the King Kool website or, if you want to hear and even buy the album, click here.

Update: In November 2009, to help promote the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, Forest funded a King Kool gig at The Cross Kings pub in London.

I wrote about it here (Now for something completely different) and here (Rock 'n' roll animal).

After the event I wrote:

Fantastic evening at the Cross Kings in London on Wednesday night. I must admit that I had reservations that an evening of "grunge-fuelled rock 'n' roll" in support of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign would work, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Apologies to Dan Donovan for doubting him! It was great and I would happily do it again.

Perhaps that time has come.

Monday
Jul212014

"I'm going to bed" huffs ASH spokeswoman on Five Live

I was on the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live last night.

We were discussing the decision by an American court to order a tobacco company to pay the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996 $23.6 billion (£13.8bn).

In addition to this punitive fine, the wife was awarded $16.8m (£9.8m) in compensatory damages. (See RJ Reynolds told to pay wife of cancer victim $23.6bn, BBC News).

I described the decision as "absurd" and the money awarded "obscene".

I pointed out that no-one, least of all in America, could have been in any doubt about the health risks of smoking for 40 or 50 years at least.

In the Second World War (if not the First) cigarettes were called "coffin nails".

In 1964 the US Surgeon General published the first federal government report linking smoking and ill health, including lung cancer.

Around the same time America became the first country in the world to put health warnings on cigarette packets, which was the start of tobacco control initiatives in the USA.

I also made a point about personal responsibility. Should obese people be allowed to sue junk food manufacturers? Should alcoholics be allowed to sue drinks companies?

Putting the opposing view was Amanda Sandford of ASH. Amanda tends to get these graveyard shifts (10.20 on a Sunday night) and she sounded less than pleased.

At one point, in response to my suggestion that she should go to the Forest Facebook page and read what smokers have to say about the issue, she said she didn't care what smokers thought.

Bizarrely she huffed that she was "going to bed" as soon as the interview was over.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that on air before – least of all a professional lobbyist!

Stephen Nolan is an excellent broadcaster and did what he always does. If he isn't playing devil's advocate he astutely withdraws from the conversation and allows his guests to battle it out amongst themselves.

The result can be a little chaotic, especially if we end up talking over one another, but at its best it can be quite entertaining.

Amanda was keen to stress the addictive aspect of smoking so I asked her if alcoholics should sue drinks companies for their addiction.

She wriggled a bit – tobacco is a unique product etc – but eventually said individuals should make up their own mind.

How sad that a representative of a taxpayer-funded pressure group seems to think addiction is a matter for the courts and avaricious, ambulance chasing lawyers.

In their eyes consumers – smokers, alcoholics, the obese – are "victims". The concept of personal responsibility (or willpower) is anathema to them.

Anyway, we finished our contretemps and Nolan invited listeners to phone in with their opinions. The first agreed with me and I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Following Amanda'a splendid example (but without announcing it to the nation) I switched off the radio and went to bed.

Monday
Jul212014

Nannying tyrants

Final word on last week's Freedom Dinner.

The speech by our principal speaker Brendan O'Neill has been posted over on The Free Society. Here's a taste:

What we have in the 21st century is not just an irritating, killjoy nanny state, but an utterly out-of-control bureaucratic imperative, an unhinged interventionist dynamic that has lost any sense of what areas of life it is appropriate for the authorities to intervene in and what areas of life the authorities should leave well alone.

We live under governments that relentlessly interfere in family life, in home life, in private life; governments which think nothing of telling parents how to raise their kids, or telling adults how to have sex, or setting out to reshape the masses’ behaviour and even our minds.

We live under a state that seems to think that individuals should have no internal moral life of their own. That isn’t quaint or eccentric or nannyish. We need to face up to the fact that the modern state has more in common with the Inquisition than it does with Mary Poppins.

 It’s worth thinking about all the stuff the state is doing these days.

It has banned smoking almost everywhere and it is always thinking up ways to make it harder to booze, too. It is banning junk-food ads, sweets in schools, and even packed lunches in some cases, so little does it trust parents to feed their kids in a proper, state-approved way.

The editor of Spiked (he's also a columnist for The Big Issue and The Australian) concluded his speech by saying:

We’re really letting them off the hook when we call them nannies; they look to me more like tyrants, or they certainly seem to be possessed of some pretty tyrannical instincts. What we’re really witnessing is the unravelling of the Enlightenment itself. The Enlightenment was based on the idea that individuals should be free to carve out their own moral and spiritual path in life without being hectored, harried or “corrected” by their rulers.



As John Locke said in his letter on toleration, one of the earliest documents of the Enlightenment, “The care of souls does not belong to the [state]… every man’s soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself.

This is the real fight we have on our hands today – not a fight against a bunch of annoying nannies, but a fight against the attempted colonisation of our souls by a state which thinks, wrongly, that it knows better than we do ourselves how our lives should be run.

Great stuff. I urge you to read the full article:

Why nanny should become the new 'N' word (The Free Society)

Thursday
Jul172014

Smoking rates: figures ignore casual smokers

Tobacco control advocates are cockahoop.

Following publication of research in Australia, anti-smoking campaigners are claiming that a "dramatic" 15 per cent decline in smoking rates is a result of plain packaging.

Look closely however and the figures (15.1 down to 12.8 per cent) relate to a three-year period from 2010 to December 2013.

Plain packaging was introduced in December 2012 but that seems to have escaped many commenters and journalists, deliberately or otherwise.

Truth is there was a whopping 25 per cent excise hike in Australia in 2010 (followed by a further 12.5 per cent increase on December 1, 2013 which will probably have an impact on the next set of figures).

We know smokers are sensitive to price increases (hence the flourishing black market trade in tobacco) so it seems reasonable to conclude that cost, not plain packaging, has been the primary influence on smoking rates in Australia over the last few years.

But wait. While a 15 per cent reduction in smoking rates may sound "dramatic", over three years it simply reflects an historical trend and is no more newsworthy than a similar decline in smoking rates in the UK which doesn't have standardised packs. Not yet, anyway.

For further reading check out this report in the FT: Australia smoking rates tumble after plain packaging shift.

See also BAT Australia's response (Smoking rates underestimated) which includes the interesting point that the Australian survey ignores casual smokers who represent one in five consumers.

Include these smokers and the smoking rate in Australia jumps to 16.5 per cent of the population.

I suspect too that many smokers simply don't admit to smoking. Here's some anecdotal evidence.

On Tuesday night at The Freedom Dinner we commissioned Dan Donovan to take photographs of guests, as we always do. (Click here for the results.)

Yesterday Dan passed on the remarkable information that several guests at the Forest Freedom Dinner (my emphasis) asked him not to take pictures of them smoking!!!!

Why, I don't know. It may be guilt or fear that in today's highly judgemental society they may be discriminated against (passed over for promotion, perhaps) or vilified in some other way.

The simple fact is this: there is a significant number of people out there who are probably casual smokers and don't want anyone, other than their immediate friends, to know about it.

So they ask the photographer at a smoker-friendly event not to take pictures of them smoking. (Note: this is the first time it's happened at a Forest event, which is why Dan mentioned it, so it's a new phenomenon.)

Likewise, when asked by researchers 'Do you smoke?', what do you think their likely response is?

I suspect there are hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of casual smokers who go under the radar because they keep it to themselves.

What an extraordinary state of affairs.

PS. Re the Australian story I also recommend this post by Chris Snowdon, Dogs bark, cows moo, ASH lies, which I will come back to in my next post.

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