French MPs on Friday passed a government-backed proposal to force cigarette-manufacturers to use plain packets without logos, identical in all respects apart from a small mention of their name.They also voted to impose a ban on smoking in cars, for an obligation for shops to check ID, transparency on lobbying by the industry and restrictions on where Tabacs can be situated. And then there is this.
An extra tax on cigarette manufacturers if their turnover either rises or fails to fall less that three per cent, the government's target for the reduction in salesIt's almost like they have admitted defeat before they have started. Plain packaging is the only measure amongst these which they can vaguely claim to be about driving down smoking prevalence, so they are insuring their stupidity with a tax, just in case.
This is because it is well known by all tobacco controllers that the only device that they can truly claim - without fear of dispute - to be proven to reduce smoking prevalence is duty/taxation, as ASH's APPG Chair Paul Burstow explained to us just a couple of weeks ago.
"If a tobacco levy is introduced, the tobacco industry will have to decide whether to pass on to consumers some, or all, of the cost in higher prices. That would of course have some public health benefits, as price increases are known to be the single most effective policy lever in reducing smoking prevalence"We have to ask ourselves, then, why it is that governments are faffing around with a policy such as plain packaging - where the efficacy is hotly disputed - when they could just go for something that they know will work. Well, that's if they actually do want there to be less smoking, of course - the fact that state treasuries profit like a motherfucker from smokers tends to cast doubt on their motives somewhat, I find.
All this is very interesting in light of the fact that one of the key arguments being used by the 36 countries objecting to plain packaging via the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is that there are other options that could be employed to achieve a reduction in smoking for all ages.
Or, as the WTO rules put it (emphases mine).
Unnecessary obstacles to trade can result when (i) a regulation is more restrictive than necessary to achieve a given policy objective, or (ii) when it does not fulfil a legitimate objective. A regulation is more restrictive than necessary when the objective pursued can be achieved through alternative measures which have less trade-restricting effects, taking account of the risks non-fulfilment of the objective would create.What Burstow has told the UK parliament is that there is - indeed - something far more effective than plain packaging, and that it's name is taxation. What France is admitting, too, is that if - as we can expect from the evidence from Australia - plain packaging doesn't work to reduce prevalence by an arbitrary 3%, they will resort to something that they know will work, taxation.
They couldn't make a better case for those objecting to plain packs at the WTO if they tried. I do hope the lawyers acting on behalf of those 36 countries are noting all this down, because it is quite clear that there are, indeed, "alternative measures which have less trade-restricting effects" which don't involve stealing billions of dollars of intellectual property from legal businesses like plain packaging does.
They need only quote the politicians and policy detail of the daft countries who are determined to try something stupid before doing something that works.