Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Drafting A Plain Packs Consultation Response (Again)

If you've a vague suspicion you've seen this blog title before, you'd be correct.

Yes, we went through all this back in April 2012 when the daft exercise in appeasing tax-sponging tobacco controllers was first floated. Back then, many of you shared your responses with me which were overall quite excellent, and I do believe that our input was one of the reasons the margin of "detailed responses" was only 53/43 in favour.

You see, these affairs are usually a slam dunk for state-funded tobacco control industry organisations and their other funders, simply because they are paid to respond to them. Not for nothing have public consultations long since been considered a bit of a joke and better termed "public sector consultations". By way of comparison, those responding in favour of the equally stupid tobacco display ban were apparently over 90% (because almost no-one who wasn't paid to respond was aware of it).

Perhaps the government was hoping the plain packs process would be equally as simple; perhaps not. But the fact that so many took the time to object along with two-thirds of the public - in the largest public consultation the country has ever seen - registering their objections elsewhere seems to have sent a message to MPs which led to a long delay.

So do consider doing so again. Full details are here, with the online survey form (the simplest if you are reading online, I suppose) being here.

This second consultation is far less extensive, only involving four questions.
1. Do you have any observations about the report of the Chantler Review that you wish to bring to our attention?
Well, this is easy enough. Firstly, it didn't take into account anything except public health. It was like businesses, the economy, counterfeit tobacco made by criminal gangs, and intellectual property rights didn't exist, let alone concerns about liberty and freedom of choice.

What's more, as I've mentioned before, its summary declares that "research cannot prove conclusively" that plain packaging will work, but that Sir Cyril reckons - after having his ear bent by his tobacco control industry pals for four months - that it may have a "modest" effect. Just think about that for a moment. Despite blatantly rigging the evidence which Chantler was presented with; despite breaking impartiality rules by allowing the reviewers to cite their own biased studies; and despite excluding any governmental dissenting voices, Chantler still couldn't find conclusive evidence that it will work. Most probably because he brought nothing new to the debate so was working with the fanciful witterings of the aforementioned vested interests.

Which leads us onto the next question.
2. Do you have any information, in particular any new or additional information since the 2012 consultation, relating to the wider aspects of standardised packaging, that you wish to bring to our attention? 
Finally, and after months of obfuscating since Jane Ellison announced the Chantler Review in November with a lie, the government makes a last minute pretence at listening to the very real problems that plain packaging will cause.

Take your pick of what to mention. Perhaps the fact that police officers up and down the country are adamant that it will boost illicit and counterfeit trade; or - if it's new information the consultation is asking for - that this is already happening in Australia with illicit tobacco being cultivated on an industrial scale by criminals and, just this week, Channel 7 blaming an explosion in fake cigarettes on plain packaging might interest them.

You could refer our benevolent government to the fact that newly-released Australian statistics show around 150,000 extra 12 to 17 year olds now smoke in Australia a year after plain packaging, a huge rise of 36% which bucks a long term decline in youth smoking. That is what plain packs was supposed to be about, wasn't it? The kids?

You could also perhaps point out that plain packaging is seen as a threat to intellectual property rights by the pharmaceutical and confectionery industries, amongst others. And for good reason, despite the ridiculous claims of tobacco controllers desperate to pretend there is no slippery slope.

Or why not just mention all of the above if you're feeling saucy.
3. Do you have any comments on the draft regulations, including anything you want to draw to our attention on the practicalities of implementing the regulations, as drafted?
There isn't much to say about the draft regs since they are similar to those in Australia except that 'specialist' tobacco such as cigars and pipes appear to have been excluded (see page 12).

It would mean, though - and the consultation document explicitly states it - that articles 13 & 14 of the EU Tobacco Products Directive would also be rubber-stamped in the process. So packs of ten would be outlawed and tar and nicotine content be withheld without much parliamentary discussion. There's Cameron's new tough stance on the EU since the May elections for ya, eh?
4. Are you aware of any further evidence or information which would improve the assumptions or estimates we have made in the consultation-stage impact assessment?
I suppose it would be crass to say that they're utter rot, wouldn't it? They are though.

Maybe here you could highlight that the impact assessment on businesses has still not been passed fit for purpose a full two years after it was first found wanting by the Regulatory Policy Committee. In short, this means that the damage to businesses that plain packaging presents has been woefully under-estimated from the beginning and has still to be addressed. Perhaps they hoped no-one would notice, I dunno.

This would appear to be a problem connected to having a Department of Health packed full of tobacco prohibitionists, including one who can count Australian plain packaging advocates amongst their Facebook friends. They don't want anyone to know how much damage plain packs will cause to manufacturers, retailers, packagers and the general public - and how much of a boost it would be to criminals - simply because they know it is real and would torpedo the idea if it became public.

And that's about the sum of it. Sadly, there's no scope for informing the government of the preceding campaign corruption including such gems as the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies actively encouraging multiple signatures during the original consultation, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health deliberately misleading MPs, and also attempting to airbrush out all objections while the Department of Health tried to erase the meeting where this occurred from public record. But hey, that's how the Sir Humphreys of this world roll.

This has been a scummy campaign, led by grubby self-serving trouser-fillers, reporting to a government which would prefer you didn't interfere in their plans for making your life more miserable. Please do go and give them a piece of your mind.

You never know, they may even listen this time around.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention one other question which you will encounter, which I think is answered brilliantly by PJH in the comments (click to enlarge).



Dick_Puddlecote said...

Great point. Worth an update.

PJHH said...

Something else you've not mentioned for #4 Dick: shutters on tobacco counters...

PJHH said...

And, amazingly, it makes it to the PDF they send back:


Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ha! I hope this will prove to be a standard reply. :)

Michael J. McFadden said...

Well done, and particular kudos to PJHH! That's a point they NEVER mention in all their various surveys etc. Y'gotta love the ones where you know that 90% of the participants were given the forms to fill out by people at the health fair stand or in the charity/medical offices.



fredbarboo said...

I went for:

"It concerns me that you are only seeking to establish associations between respondents and tobacco firms and not other organisations such as anti-smoker NGOs and charities.

"I would appreciate clarification for why this is."

*holds breath*