Do you know only one in ten smokers in the UK started after the age of 19, and two in five of smoking habits started before 16?
Every year, more than 100,000 people die from smoking related diseases across UK; at the same time, 200,000 children aged 11-15 are risking their health and spending hundreds if not thousands of pounds a year on this toxic habit.
When smokers take up in their early years, they face more serious health impacts and find it harder to quit, so reversing this alarming trend has to be one of our biggest priorities in public health. And that’s why the Lib Dems have fought hard over years to get us all ahead of the curve. Thanks to hard work from colleagues across Parliament, in the past ten years the UK has banned tobacco companies from using most forms of advertising – including sponsoring sport teams – and put the display of tobacco products in shops under control while Paul was Health Minister.
Then it was true that the health and economic benefits of stopping tobacco displays far outweigh the costs, and the same is true of standardising cigarette package designs now. The unconscious trigger of attractive packaging is an extremely successful marketing tool that encourages children and young people to glamourise and take up smoking. Bright colours, sleek designs and slim cigarettes, to name a few, all make people falsely believe that such cigarettes are less harmful. Attractive packaging is responsible for one in 20 people who take up the habit and a matter of 2,000 lives in the UK each year.
There is still hope, even as smoking casts an ever larger shadow over the health of the next generation. Paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler’s review found that tobacco advertising makes teenager uptake more likely, and concluded that standardised packaging is an effective way to counter that. With uniform design on cigarette package, existing users can still choose their favourite brands, but teenagers walking by will be less likely to pick up their first packs.
Cyril is not alone in holding this view. Surveys earlier this year show that three in four people in the UK now support the introduction of standardised packaging. People with different political views and backgrounds clearly agree on the importance of the health of UK’s next generation.
When this measure was first adopted in Australia at the end of 2012, the World Health Organisation immediately said it a very important way to control the prevalence of smoking in Australia. The following year proved that the support was well earned: adult smoking prevalence in Australia declined from more than one in seven to one in eight, and the proportion of age 18-24 who never took up smoking rose from seven to nearly eight in ten. As Australian government confirmed, this decline resulted in neither a collapse in cigarette prices nor in boosting illicit tobacco products.
We could rest assured that the uniform design in the UK will not cause a boom in the black market either. HMRC confirms this already, while the Smokefree Action Coalition, an alliance of over 250 organisations, have highlighted that existing security systems on packs is an effective means to help customers see the difference between genuine and black market packs.
Contrary to what the tobacco lobby will have you believe, the evidence is already clear. We know what needs to be done, and how we can do it, and the Lib Dems have been clear in our commitment to it, from the Deputy Prime Minister to the backbenches in both Houses, we have campaigned long and hard to get this vitally important measure through in this Parliament. Just as we all did in banning smoking in cars with children present.
The fact that public support for introducing standardised packaging remains high gives enough political motivation to move forward. We have been lobbying for this measure for years. It is fantastic that together we should now see our long held aspirations become a reality.