Sheila Duffy – Chief Executive, ASH Scotland
Jaine Chisholm Caunt claims that The Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) and its members are committed to preventing under-18s from accessing cigarettes. But then continues an old habit of attacking a policy aimed at bringing this about.
The tobacco industry is well aware that two thirds of its consumers take up smoking before they are 18. It also well knows that half of all its long-term customers will die early from a disease caused by using its addictive products exactly as they are intended to be used by the manufacturers. Yet tobacco companies still use every available opportunity to promote their products – such as large, bright shop displays and fancy branding and packaging.
She is right to say that youth smoking rates are at their lowest level for a generation, but neglects to give credit to the series of effective public health measures which have brought this about.
These have been opposed inch by inch by the tobacco industry attempting to disrupt and delay their introduction. Even now democratically agreed moves to stop point-of-sale displays of tobacco, twice upheld by the courts, are being dragged to the UK Supreme Court by the implacable opposition of one of Chisholm Caunt’s member organisations.
The forthcoming Westminster consultation on requiring plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products will be accompanied by a comprehensive evidence review. The numerous studies I am already aware of support the idea that plain packaging will make tobacco less attractive to young people. If the full evidence review of peer-reviewed academic research supports this conclusion will the tobacco industry accept it?
Chisholm Caunt’s claims about impacts on retailers are reminiscent of the scaremongering and exaggerated claims of business impact that have accompanied other proposed health measures relating to tobacco (such as smokefree public places and point of sale displays). These campaigns have disturbed licensees and retailers but have subsequently been proved false. I am aware of just one piece of published research examining whether plain packaging would increase shop transaction times.
Unlike Chisholm Caunt the research concludes that it will not.
The claims of illicit trade increasing are a familiar tobacco industry red herring. The illegal trade in tobacco is a genuine concern, but contrary to industry scare-mongering it has been in decline for a decade due to measures already in place in Scotland. Existing, branded pack designs can be easily faked – there is no reason why standardising packaging, which retains pictorial health warnings and security measures, should benefit counterfeiters.
Those inclined to listen to the tobacco industry should study its track record, in which truth and honesty are consistently side-lined in their cynical pursuit of profit.