Tobacco Control wins the gold medal for dishonesty on plain packaging

If the smoking and non-smoking public have managed to stop the state in its tracks in the quest for plain packaging, then drinkers, the obese, the fossil fueled industries and car drivers may take a deep breath

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Andrew Lansley's consultation on plain packaging has finished
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David Atherton
On 13 August 2012 08:32

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s consultation on the plain packaging of cigarette packets has finished. To recap, the tobacco control industry (mainly taxpayer funded) argue that brightly coloured packets -- even when accompanied by frank health warnings and pictures -- are a lure to underage teenagers to start smoking.

Coinciding with the end of the Olympic Games, now is a good time to look at the winners and losers after seven months of intensive campaigning. The non-smoker may find it hard to generate any enthusiasm for this subject, but remember this concerns the slippery slope towards plain packaging for alcohol and food too. It also encompasses the right of the state to seize intellectual property rights.

The gold medal for getting the message and voting with their keyboard and pens goes to the general public who registered 235,000 objections. Many were non-smokers.

The gold medal for her indefatigable campaigning goes to Angela Harbutt who headed up the Hands Off Our Packs campaign. To have persuaded nearly a quarter of a million people to have their say is to be commended.

The gold medal for dishonesty goes to the UK and Australian governments and their associated sock puppets for a grossly misleading operation. The Plain Packs Protect umbrella organisation, headed up by SmokeFree South West -- an NHS funded offshoot that employs Dutch private detective agencies to the tune of £135,000, made the catastrophic error of including Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary as one of its supporters. He is meant to be entirely neutral and his association casts doubt on the merit of the consultation.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), despite soliciting the help of every public sector worker, could only muster 203,000 signatures. In desperation, having lost the vox pop, they enlisted the help of Avaaz, an organisaton with “a simple democratic mission: [to] organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.” Forty-eight hours before the consultation was to end members were urged to vote for plain packs.

Then you have the Mexican government which had the temerity to ask what evidence there was for claims that plain packaging would reduce youth smoking. The Australian Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon replied, "The sort of proof they are looking for doesn't exist when this hasn't been introduced around the world.."

As I have noted in the past, in Australia, plain packaged cannabis, heroin, cocaine, et al. are consumed by Australian youth three times more than tobacco.

Dr. Tim Holmes of Royal Holloway, an expert in eye tracking research, reviewed people’s perceptions to branded and unbranded packets. He concluded:

“..the non-smokers looked at the warning messages much less than the other participants, and there was no difference between plain and branded package designs in the amount of time spent looking at the warning message.

Now, it’s great that the right people are looking more at the warning message, but if this doesn’t result in an increased risk perception then surely the messages aren’t doing their job! Moreover, if removing the brand identity doesn’t change the way people look at the packets then maybe plain packaging, which will be costly to implement, isn’t the best of ideas.”

Then you have the situation where any legislation would probably be in breach of World Trade Organization rules, more specifically agreed after the 1986 Uruguayan Round. “The use of a trademark in the course of trade shall not be unjustifiably encumbered by special requirements”.

Countries such as the Dominican Republic, Ukraine and Honduras have already filed complaints. The whole point of branding is to distinguish the brand, not to advertise smoking as a pastime. Advertising is de jure and de facto illegal.

In my opinion this is more about the further denormalisation of smokers and smoking. The tobacco control industry wants to decouple smoking from the mainstream and turn them into even greater pariahs and outcasts.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the consultation will be. As I mentioned above there is evidence to suggest that it may well be a sham.

The government may think twice about further restrictions on the tobacco industry and smokers, in the face of such hostility. In the best case scenario, Forest, the bloggers, and above all the smoking and non smoking public will have stopped the state and it’s apparatus in its tracks.

Drinkers, the obese, the fossil fueled industries and car drivers may then take a deep breath.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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