Enough delay, time to vote for plain cigarette packaging
Ahead of the final Commons vote on the subject, the shadow public health minister urges MPs to end the prevarication, reflect public opinion and support the plain packaging of cigarettes.
Finally, after years of campaigning and parliamentary pressure, the whole House is expected to vote today on whether tobacco products should be sold in standardised packages, with clear health warnings. Experts say this measure will make children less likely to take up smoking, and so will ultimately save lives.
We are within touching distance of this precious victory for children’s health. Yet sadly, there remains a minority of opinion who are determined to hold back progress. In recent weeks and months we have seen a fierce battle being played out at the heart of the Conservative Party over standardised packaging. There are some willing to listen to the overwhelming evidence that doing away with glitzy packaging for cigarettes also removes the glamour of smoking and makes it less likely that children will start the habit. There are others who consider this an infringement of liberty, and want tobacco companies to ply their wares, regardless of the cost to our nation’s health.
This ideological split amongst the Tories is likely a major reason why legislation has been so slow in arriving. In the run up to the vote today the Tories have prevaricated, squabbled and delayed. Hanging over the row is the dark cloud of Lynton Crosby, David Cameron’s election strategist. Crosby’s lobbying firm was contracted by tobacco giant Philip Morris International in 2012. Cameron claims there has been no conflict of interest, but in reality he has some serious questions to answer. Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the measure over a year ago, and in the time that has passed since that vote, experts say over 200,000 young people have started smoking.
When MPs come to vote today they should consider the overwhelming case for standardised packaging. The government-commissioned review by Sir Cyril Chantler concluded back in April last year that ‘standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking’, could lead to an ‘important reduction’ of uptake and prevalence, and have a ‘positive impact’ on public health. This was no great revelation. Sir Cyril himself wrote: ‘my overall findings are not dissimilar to those of previous reviews.’
If we can reduce the number of young people starting to smoke each year by just 2%, 4,000 fewer children will start. Not only do we save them from a shortened life, blighted by lung disease, bronchitis or cancer, we also relieve pressure on the NHS. Treating diseases caused by smoking costs our NHS £2.7 billion each year.
Doctors, cancer charities, campaigners and common sense all suggest that this is the right thing to do. They are joined by a huge majority of the population: 72% of those polled support the move. So when MPs vote today, they will have no doubt where the mood of the nation rests.
We have had the consultation, we have had a number of debates, now it is time to have the final vote. We cannot have further delay, not when the health of thousands of children is at risk. One child taking up smoking is one too many. For the sake of those children and young people, and for the health of the nation, I sincerely hope that the House vote this afternoon in support of these regulations.
Luciana Berger is MP for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Public Health