Dick Puddlecote has lifted the lid on the government's funding of the pro-plain packaging campaign. Bristol Primary Care Trust has given SmokeFree South-West no less than £468,462.06 to spend on billboard, digital and other marketing to promote a policy which the Department of Health has officially not made it's mind up about (it is, after all, due to launch one of its notorious 'public consultations', so in theory it has an open mind).
And what misleading marketing it is. The billboard above is a typical product of the millions being spent by the DoH on the plain packaging campaign. Notice the unsubstantiated claim that plain packaging will "protect children" (from what? - whatever it is, the DoH has previously stated that the evidence in favour of plain packaging is "speculative") and the false implication that plain packs will be, well, plain, when they will actually be used to depict whatever gruesome image takes the fancy of the warped minds of 'tobacco control professionals' (see below). It is questionable whether such images (a) are more suitable for children to see, and (b) really "make cigarette packs less noticeable".
Doubtless the people of Bristol will be delighted to hear that large sums of money are being diverted away from patient care to fund an advertising campaign for this barrel-scraping exercise. This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Dick estimates that the national total could be around £5 million. Undoubtedly it will number in the millions. There are 151 PCTs in England alone, and it seems that a good proportion of them - perhaps all of them - are using taxpayers' money to lobby taxpayers and politicians. NHS Devon, for example, gave SmokeFree South-West £370,000 last year. Like the other 'SmokeFree' groups, SmokeFree South-West provide no public services and exist only to campaign for legislation and influence public opinion.
Perhaps I'm very old fashioned, but I always thought it was the people who campaigned for legislation and the government who listened. As the Department of Health tightens its grip on policy-making, those roles seem to have been reversed.