An example selection of currently available tobacco packs

The 2010 film The King’s Speech was a national triumph. So at Cancer Research UK we’re dismayed to have to report that we’re not exactly rolling out the red carpet for yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

In fact, quite the opposite.

The Queen’s Speech – which outlined the Government’s focus for the next year – has, shockingly, left plans to put tobacco products in plain, standardised packaging, on the cutting room floor.

The government has thus failed to deliver on a policy that would help protect children from a product that has no sJoin our Plain Packaging Campaignafe level of consumption.

So today, nine months since its consultation closed in August 2012, we’re left hanging, still waiting for the government to make a clear statement of its intentions.

In that time more than 150,000 children have started smoking – the beginning of an addiction that kills half its long-term users.

In light of this disappointing decision, we wanted to outline, clearly and simply, which organisations support this measure. Also we thought it worth exposing the vested interests of its opponents. This is all worth knowing, because this fight isn’t over; this is not “The End”.

A quick recap

Along with scores of other health organisations, Cancer Research UK has been campaigning for new laws to put all tobacco products in plain, standardised packs.

This isn’t about discouraging current smokers. It’s about discouraging children from starting – something the evidence shows standard packs will be effective in doing. This is because tobacco packs are the last remaining ‘public space’ left for the tobacco industry to advertise their brands.

As you might expect, the tobacco industry has vehemently opposed this idea – opposition that flies in the face of widespread support from across society.

On the one hand…

Protecting the public health of its citizens should be a top priority for any government.

There is clear support for standardised tobacco packs from the public, and from the public health and welfare community at both national and international levels.

Let’s look at who’s backing the campaign:

The World Health Organisation is clear that marketing of tobacco products “encourages current smokers to smoke more, decreases their motivation to quit, and urges youth to start” – and make no mistake, the branding on cigarette packs is marketing.

Our standard packs campaign was a Mumsnet feature campaign in 2012 because parents believe it is important to protect their children from tobacco marketing.

The Trading Standards Institute, EU anti-fraud office representative and Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner have dismissed tobacco industry claims that standard packs will increase the illicit trade.  

…but on the other:

In keeping with years of deceit about the deadly harms and addictiveness of their products, the tobacco industry has financed a number of third-party organisations to oppose the policy.

Throughout their opposition to standard packs, industry and pro-tobacco groups have relied on facts and figures drawn from several key sources, leaving the declaration of vested interests for others to discover. So here are just a few:

  • KPMG have produced several reports that claim the illicit tobacco trade is growing: these reports were paid for by the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris International. But they contradict the Government’s own figures.
  • Transcrime have also produced reports on the illicit tobacco trade: these are also funded by Philip Morris, and report strikingly similar findings
  • The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), are a pro-smoking group that has opposed any legislation intended to reduce smoking rates: they are supported by British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco.
  • Forest has, in turn, used their own single-issue front-group Hands Off Our Packs (HOOPS) to oppose standard packs: they receive the same veiled support from BAT, JTI and Imperial tobacco.
  • The Intellectual Property (IP) firm, Rouse, have written articles which look at the implications for brands’ intellectual property: last week the firm amended their client list, removing Japan International Tobacco, but helpfully staff biographies list tobacco clients among them.
  • The Common Sense Alliance includes many members who have spoken out against standard packs: among them, former-police officers who had given evidence to the House of Lords. The Observer reported the Common Sense Alliance is funded by BAT – something the former officers failed to declare.

In July 2012, JTI announced that they would be committing £2m to a campaign opposing standard packs, placing several adverts in national publications throughout and beyond the consultation period. To date the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that two separate ads are misleading and unsubstantiated”.

A quick note on smuggling: one of the most persistent and widely aired myths in the industry’s campaign. As we heard from a current Trading Standards Officer on this very blog, “plain packs won’t encourage smuggling”.

The illicit cigarette market has been falling since its peak in the early 2000s, yet the tobacco industry claims the illicit trade is ‘booming’ (which a parliamentary report noted is “contrary to the available statistics”).

Even their representatives (the Tobacco Manufacturers Association) accept that the consumption of illicit tobacco in the UK is falling.

When you look at the whole package, this collaboration, and extent of this deception is like something out of a Hollywood script.

What happens next?

Although the Government missed the chance to announce standard packs in the Queen’s speech, there are still opportunities to introduce standard packs legislation in this session and let Parliament decide.

So we need to move fast. Email your MP today and ask them to do the right thing: introduce standardised cigarette packs and put the health of our children ahead of tobacco industry profits.

If all of us stand united in the fight against cancer, our voices will be louder and clearer than any campaign the tobacco industry can mount.

The irony of it all

The irony of this all is that shiny and glamorous branded tobacco packets are the perfect metaphor for the tobacco industry’s tactics throughout this campaign.

Their reports and websites look the part; they slap a logo on them, and spend huge amounts to promote them, to as wide an audience as possible. But when you open the page, much like opening a pack of cigarettes, all you find inside is a toxic concoction that flatters to deceive.

It is easy to be frustrated, agitated and angry with the government’s failure to back up a commitment to reducing preventable mortality, by ignoring a measure that will reduce the appeal of an addiction that causes one in every four cancer deaths in the UK.

In this regal speech, which laid out this government priorities, it appears that a supporting cast of tobacco industry proxies have won the day.

This stuttering progress can be overcome, and we will urge the government to ignore the profit-driven interests of the tobacco industry, and instead move to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

Ultimately, we think this is a policy for which they would be celebrated, resonating with the assured words of King George VI that ‘the highest of distinctions is service to others’.

Chris

  • Chris Woodhall is a tobacco control officer at Cancer Research UK