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A giant leap for public health

Nearly four years ago we said, on this very blog, how pleased we were that measures to introduce plain, standardised tobacco packaging were ‘on the table’.

Since then we have peppered our blog with 31 articles on the subject – with countless more referencing it as part of our wider work.

And no matter how many times we have stated the facts about tobacco-use they remain as shocking and enduring:

And in the duration of our long campaign, as many times as we have rehearsed those facts, we have consistently pushed our position and that of our supporters:

The Government must introduce regulations for standardised packaging of tobacco products in this Parliament.

Last night we got one step closer to this. Alongside the release of our new polling showing support for standardised packaging reaching its highest level ever – with 72 per cent of the UK public backing the measure – we got the news we’ve been waiting for:  the Government announced its intention to present regulations for standardised packaging in this parliament – taking us one step closer to getting tobacco marketing off the shelves in May 2016.

Of course, over the last 40 years, smoking rates have dropped substantially. But we know these rates don’t fall on their own.  In fact, as the infographic here shows, there have been periods when smoking rates began to rise again – notably in the 1990s when action on smoking was neglected:

150122-tobacco-timeline

This graphically demonstrates the power – and the necessity – of continued, effective action to combat smoking. Action like standardised packaging.

In March last year, the Independent Chantler Review of the evidence for the standardised packaging, concluded that “…branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption”.

So the scientific consensus is, it works. But will it wash with the public? The opponents of standard packs have called this into question. But in turn, others have questioned the independence of these voices.

Political support

Our new poll sheds some light on this.  The new data clearly show that public support for standardised packaging is at its highest levels yet.

This lends more pressure to that exerted by both the growing evidence base, and the 4000 medical and health professionals who signed an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, calling for standardised cigarette packs to be approved before the General Election.

Though the issue has become the topic of much political debate, our poll, conducted in collaboration with YouGov, shows that (based on voting intention) the measure has extensive cross-party support: 75 per cent Conservative, 75 per cent Labour, 80 per cent Lib Dem and 64 per cent of UKIP. Introducing standard packs is also backed by the Green Party:

 

Standard packs support

In light of such extensive and broad support, what of the opposition to the measure?

Nothing – neither the indisputable scale of death and disease caused by tobacco use; nor the wealth of peer-reviewed, independent research, nor the positive impact that standard packs have made in Australia – contributing to record low tobacco consumption – has stemmed the industry’s fierce opposition.

Their business operates in fundamental conflict to the aims of public health and so their prerogative will be to sour measures backed by the health community.

 A spokesperson for the tobacco-industry funded group Hands Off Our Packs (HOOPs) described the comparison between existing cigarette packs and standardised variants as “like showing a picture of a Lamborghini and a beaten up Ford Escort and saying which one do you prefer?” To steal a quote from an advert from one tobacco company – which was incidentally ruled to be misleading – we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Next steps…

So what steps are left to get standard packs on the shelves?

  • Last night’s announcement means regulations for standardised packaging will be laid in this Parliament
  • This means that Members of Parliament will be given the opportunity to vote on the measure before the end of this Parliament in March
  • Separately, Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to confirm that they consent to regulations applying in their respective countries
  • If MPs in Westminster vote “yes”, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers give their backing, plans for implementing the measure can be agreed
  • All this means that standardised tobacco packs could be on the shelves from May 2016

So as we move closer still to a final, decisive vote, it’s becomes clear that the protests of an industry motivated by profits have failed to either undermine the wealth of scientific evidence, the conclusive public opinion, or break the resolve of our partners, supporters and Ambassadors who have fought tirelessly for so long.

And although it’s just another small step towards the ultimate goal, we’re over the moon about it.

Chris Woodhall is a Senior Policy Officer in our Cancer Prevention department

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Comments

Alan I February 4, 2015

The Government and NHS fumble in the dark unable to see the bigger picture. The NHS advertise methods to help smokers give up. They should concentrate on ways to stop people, especially children, starting in the first place. I thought I heard years ago that film and TV producers were to be banned from filming smoking scenes. I still see people ‘enjoying’ a smoke in recently made films and dramas. Banning sports advertising and plain packaging will have no effect while children can see James Bond smoking in the middle of an afternoon. Any film that depicts tobacco or drug use should have a 25+ age classification and a TV watershed of midnight. Maybe a reduction in revenue will prompt film producers to act more responsibly. Finally kiddies, any idiot can light up a cigarette. It takes real strength of character not to. Do you really want to commit yourself to possible £35.00 a week addiction when it gives you no benefit whatsoever? If you can afford that much, donate it to Cancer Research UK and make the world a better and healthier place for everyone.

Derek February 4, 2015

As a long term smoker I am appalled at yet another rabid anti-smoking action. I appreciate that I “may” be putting myself and “possibly” other at greater risk but ensure I respect others when I smoke.

What I wish to ask is when will other things such as alcohol abuse (I have yet to hear of 2 people rolling on the floor fighting after having a cigarette to many) and the huge increase in obescity being vilified the same way that smoker are.

I feel this action will be yet another headline grabbing action with minimal result the same as making some retailers hide the products behind sliding doors instead of being on display.

Karen walker February 4, 2015

At last all the political parties are doing what they should be doing -protecting the people instead of looking after fat cat companies who don’t care if what they do kills people . The research and evidence makes it very clear to all the dangers of smoking some people use this wisely others have to be saved from themselves. Also the wastage of money on cigarette inflicted illness is a burning public money which could be used in far better ways for everyone.

Sarah February 4, 2015

All great reading and positive. I wonder how many of us non smokers were affected by breathing in smoky air in pubs clubs and restaurants for all our early adult lives? So glad all these positive measures are now being put in place to protect our children

christine jefferies January 23, 2015

just stop producing the fags no one can smoke then and im a smoker its just they get to much money from marketing fags but it seems as though no one wants any one smoking any more so simple stop producing them its just the greedy tax they provide