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Call for plain tobacco packaging without delay

MPs have spoken of their personal loss of family members to smoking as they urged the government to restart legislation on standard tobacco packaging.

plainThe BMA sent out a briefing before Thursday’s Commons debate, stressing its support for standardised packaging after the government decided to delay its implementation following a UK-wide consultation.

The association expressed disappointment over the long wait and is calling for mandatory standardised packaging to be introduced without delay to reduce the attractiveness of smoking to young people.

It welcomed the news that Scotland will press ahead with its plans, despite challenges from the tobacco industry.

Harrow East Conservative MP Bob Blackman launched the backbench debate, calling for one of the last forms of advertising available to the tobacco industry to be removed.


Lives cut short

He said: ‘My mother died at 47 of lung and throat cancer, and I still remember what she went through. It was the direct result of a long-standing tobacco habit.’

Aberconwy Conservative MP Guto Bebb added: ‘I lost my father to lung cancer at the young age of 63. My children never saw their grandfather simply because of his smoking.’

Totnes Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston argued that the terms ‘standard’ and ‘plain’ packaging were misnomers.

‘We should be calling it “stark-staring truth packaging”,’ she insisted.

‘What it means is that we are handing someone a packet with a picture of gangrene.

‘It is actually a crystal ball, and it counteracts the very powerful subliminal messages and the last legal form of tobacco marketing in this country.’


Multiple factors

New public health minister Jane Ellison said that the packaging policy remained ‘under active consideration’.

But she argued: ‘The reasons why children, in particular, take up smoking are very complex, and are to do with family and social circumstances. One policy alone will not address that.’

The BMA briefing highlights research showing that liveried tobacco product packets continue to reinforce evocative brand images.

The association is part of the Smokefree Action Coalition of health organisations and has played an active role in campaigning for recent EU legislation that increased picture warnings and limited branding to 35 per cent of packets.

Its briefing states: ‘This is a positive step in measures to reduce the uptake and prevalence of smoking, but we believe that further legislation is required in the UK to limit further branding opportunities, which we know have an impact on young people.’


Determined to succeed

In Scotland, public health minister Michael Matheson said he was determined to introduce standardised packaging in 2014/15, following a consultation.

The commitment was welcomed by the BMA. BMA Scottish council deputy chair Charles Saunders said: ‘We have repeatedly called for standardised packaging to be introduced, and we welcome the Scottish government’s strong support of this position.

‘I would call on the tobacco industry to stop trying to undermine the government’s bid to improve public health.’

Speaking to the Faculty of Public Health conference in Dunblane on November 7 and 8, Mr Matheson said: ‘We will not be deterred by the tobacco industry. They have failed before in challenging the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate on public health, as we saw in the supreme court’s decision to dismiss Imperial Tobacco’s challenge on the tobacco-display ban.

‘We must also hold the tobacco industry to account. They have sheltered behind smokers and retailers for too long while we know that every year children are taking up tobacco use and falling into addiction.’

He said he was encouraged by early findings from Australia, where plain packaging has already been implemented.


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