Soapbox: The battle for plain packaging - Sheila Duffy
The battle over “plain”, standardised packaging for tobacco products has been long and fierce, with the Westminster Government repeatedly changing direction in the face of determined lobbying from each side. Two developments in recent weeks look like settling the matter in favour of child protection over the commercial interests of those who sell tobacco.
Firstly, Westminster Ministers have finally confirmed that they will bring forward detailed regulations regarding the introduction of standardised packaging, and Scottish Ministers immediately indicated that the regulations will apply in Scotland too.
Secondly the strident and insistent claims, put forward by the tobacco industry and its allies, that removing the fancy branding and logos from tobacco packs will boost the illicit market have been dealt a fatal blow. Alongside the summary report of the recent public consultation on the standard packs regulations, a detailed report from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was also provided.
Having considered the matter at length HMRC’s view is that there has been “no evidence to suggest the introduction of standardised packaging will have a significant impact on the overall size of the illicit market”. We can take this to mean that they reject the tobacco industry reports which make such claims and give no credence to the alarming headlines which industry representatives have provided to local newspapers from Aberdeen to Ayrshire.
The consultation summary report gives us one other telling insight. Those supporting the measure were health charities, medical bodies, trading standards and local authorities. Those opposing it were those with a commercial interest in selling tobacco. That tells its own story.
In April we will finally see the full implementation of the ban on retail tobacco displays – a full five years after the Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly agreed the measure. With the public, the politicians and the evidence fully behind standard packaging let us hope we can see the benefits of this measure without any such delays.