With MPs due to vote on plain packaging legislation this month, retailers, members of the public, campaign groups, tobacco manufacturers and leading think tanks are uniting in a last ditch attempt to dissuade MPs from rubber-stamping the measure.
Speaking at the Stop The Nonsense: Plain Speaking on Plain Packaging event yesterday, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs criticised the government for having a “feeble grasp of priorities”.
“Look at the issues that are facing our country and the world at the moment. A budget deficit this year of nearly £100bn; a fairly modest economic recovery and international instability in the Eurozone, in Ukraine, and further afield in Syria.
“With this sort of backdrop, the final act of this Parliament before the General Election is probably going to be to regulate the colour schemes that British adults are allowed to look at. That is a pretty feeble grasp of priorities,” he said.
Forest director Simon Clark slammed the consultation process. “Two-thirds of respondents to the 2012 consultation and 99% of respondents to the 2014 consultation opposed to the measure. Why does the government bother consulting the public if it simply ignores the opinions of those who take part?” he said.
Urging MPs to vote against plain packaging, Angela Harbutt, director of Liberal Vision, said: “Plain packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012 and the facts show that it hasn’t reduced the uptake of smoking, nor has it reduced rates amongst adults. Please, MPs, consider the facts, not the wishful fiction of state-funded lobby groups and the self-serving dreams of Whitehall bureaucrats.”
Finally, in a message read out by former MSP Brian Monteith, Damian Green MP said: “As a Home Office minister when I visited China I was told by officials there that whole villages were devoted to producing cigarettes for smuggling, and they were now concentrating their activities on Australia. They were incredulous that Britain would follow suit as they knew it would make life easier for criminal gangs.
“As a minister I saw at first hand the damage that crime does to people’s lives and the dangers it poses to society. We should be making criminals’ lives as difficult as possible. I hope the government will reconsider standardised packaging. As it stands this is a dangerous proposal.”
The NFRN has also stepped up its Say No To Plain Packs campaign - publishing a link to a template letter which allows retailers to write to their local MPs on Facebook.
In a separate statement issued this week, JTI managing director Daniel Torras confirmed that it would challenge any plain packaging legislation in court.
“Plain packaging is a step too far, and it worries those making other FMCG products too,” he said.
“JTI agrees, and strongly considers plain packaging is unlawful. Plain packaging would infringe important principles of EU law, and other fundamental rights – including trade mark rights – and goes against obligations under UK and WTO rules.
”We therefore expect to challenge the proposed legislation should the government proceed with plain packaging.”