Political steel can make standardised packs a reality

7 October 2013        

Category: Survival and support

Standardised cigarette packaging

Simon GillespieWhen it comes to important tobacco legislation, what can we learn from the past? Our Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, examines the issue.

History tells us that it’s not always plain sailing when it comes to introducing important tobacco control legislation.

In 2004, proposals were put forward for a smoking ban in almost all public places in England and Wales. It was, predictably, met with vicious opposition from both inside and outside of Parliament. MPs threatened to try to overturn the Bill; some claimed it didn’t go far enough. More than 100 MPs signed a petition demanding a free vote on the issue.

They got their vote and eventually a ban on smoking in enclosed public places came into force in England on July 1, 2007 – nearly three years after the public health white paper that originally proposed it.

A ban on cigarette vending machines to prevent children from easily buying cigarettes took an equally torturous route.

Original legislation was knocked back by Government but an amendment to the Health Bill was tabled from the backbenches in 2009. It received strong support, forcing the Government to reconsider the issue. The amendment was eventually passed by the Commons and Lords with support across all the major parties. On October 1, 2011, it became illegal to sell tobacco from vending machines directly to the public in England, with similar bans now in place across the UK.

And so we come to another vital piece of legislation – standardised cigarette packs. Stripped of branding and featuring larger health warnings, this dreary packaging has provoked a fiery debate. The British Heart Foundation and a host of charities and organisations, concerned about the health implications of smoking, want to see cigarettes across the UK wrapped in standardised packs as soon as possible.

And our new poll reveals 8 in 10 teenagers agree.

The evidence shows these packs would increase the effectiveness of health warnings and lessen the appeal of cigarettes, particularly among young people.

Lagging behind

Australia has led the way and already introduced standardised packs, while the Republic of Ireland and Scotland have recently committed to legislation. Westminster, though, is sadly lagging behind. It has decided not to act. But in much the same way as the vending machine ban, we have salvation in the form of a cross-party backbench amendment to the Children and Families Bill.

What we need to see now is the type of steel in the Lords and Commons that brought about the smoking and vending machine ban. It’s already been a tough journey but, to protect our young people from taking up such a lethal habit, we cannot afford for this important legislation to get lost in another storm of opposition.