Implementation of plain packaging for cigarettes and loose tobacco will go ahead on schedule today (Friday, 20 May 2016) after yesterday’s ruling from the UK High Court, which found in favour of the Department of Health.
The ruling relied partly on two key pieces of peer-reviewed research from the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath to conclude that evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to the public consultation on plain packaging ‘generally fell below best practice’ as it was not peer-reviewed, benchmarked against internal documents, did not make use of global literature and was not verifiable.
The research papers, published in BMJ Open and PLOS Medicine in 2014, had found that tobacco industry evidence:
- Was of significantly lower quality than research supporting the measure.
- Used techniques, such as misquoting, to encourage government and the public to question the quality of the evidence supporting standardised packaging;
- Failed to include evidence showing the central importance of packaging in marketing their products; evidence which is present in internal tobacco company documents made public via litigation; and
- Did not consistently and transparently disclose their links to the evidence they cited.
Lead author of one of the papers, Dr Jenny Hatchard, said ‘Our research showed that tobacco company claims that plain packaging “wouldn’t work”, would increase the illicit trade in tobacco and would damage the economy were largely unfounded and based on low quality research.
‘Yesterday’s High Court decision is an important moment for plain packaging and the positive impacts it will have on health. However, it also sends an important message that public health legislation cannot and should not be undermined by the poor quality evidence and opposition tactics of powerful corporations whose products damage our health.’
To hear Jenny speak on BBC radio click here.
“This privileging of corporate interests over democracy is only going to get worse. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a treaty being hammered out between the EU and the US with woefully little scrutiny – could grant companies the same legal rights as nation states, enabling them to sue elected governments in secret courts to block policies that dent future profits. And sure enough – using a similar treaty – Philip Morris sued the Australian government for the same policy…
It used the same tactic against Uruguay’s government for enlarging health warnings on cigarette packages.”
If the law favors Big Tobacco over taxpayers, then the law is a disgrace | Owen Jones
Under a new public health law, people will be banned from using e-cigarettes in enclosed places such as restaurants, pubs and at work in Wales. They will also be outlawed in lorries and taxis.
The plan, likely to come into force in 2017 and the first in the UK, has already divided opinion among health and medical groups, including some anti-smoking campaigners.
Professor John Britton, director of the UKCTAS fears the ban on the use of the electronic cigarettes in enclosed spaces in Wales could be detrimental to people’s health.
“Despite legal changes in Scotland, councils are struggling to use public health as an argument against new pubs and off-licences. We need to reconsider the role of licensing in the context of other ways to achieve the same ends” Niamh Fitzgerald.
What is to be done?
A war chest, to fend off legal challenges, might bolster the law and encourage local authorities to use it more ambitiously. But, perhaps, we should also re-examine the purpose and limitations of alcohol licensing.
In an era of increasing online sales and home-drinking, what can be realistically expected from action on licensing, even with more robust legislation? Are there better ways to wield the big three weapons of price, availability and marketing? Raising prices via minimum unit pricing may be a more reliable policy. Or, if the goal is to reduce the presence of alcohol in our public spaces, diminishing its cultural symbolism, then restricting advertising on bus shelters, hoardings and on television after 10pm might be much more effective (and more achievable). All these considerations call, perhaps, for a re-evaluation of the role we envisage for alcohol licensing in pursing improved public health.