Naturally, the BBC is creaming itself about this, putting it front and centre on its news webpage, but I wonder if all is at it seems. As happened in March, when the Guardian egged its own face with the claim that plain packaging was imminent, this is an unsubstantiated story from an unnamed source. Could it be the rogue Department of Health playing silly buggers again, trying to put the government on the spot?
I was tickled by this part of the Telegraph's report...
It is likely to see cigarettes in plain packaging appearing on shelves before the election in 2015 after another report into the impact of the measures in Australia is completed in Spring and is expected to back the case for plain packaging.
It's difficult to see how any fair-minded person could expect the next report to back anything of the sort when you consider that in the four months since the government said it would wait and see what happened with plain packs in Australia, the sum total of the evidence has been a study which found there are more counterfeit cigarettes than in Australia than ever before, a study that found no decline in the Australian smoking rate, and a survey that found that some Australian smokers had thought about quitting but hadn't actually done so. But then, that is how government reports work—conclusion first, evidence later.
Whatever the truth is in this story, it shows the tremendous power of the Department of Health and its taxpayer-funded lobby groups. If it's true, they have the power to get the Prime Minister to perform a U-turn. If it's false, they have the power to get the entire British media to play their game based on a lie. Either way, it's time a strong minister got in there and tamed this marauding beast.
Minister for 'public health' Jane Ellison has made a statement:
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Jane Ellison):
I am today announcing that we have asked Sir Cyril Chantler to carry out an independent review of the public health evidence on standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Tobacco use is a significant public health challenge. Our evidence-based tobacco control strategies play an essential part in delivering the Government’s continued commitment to reduce the number of people in this country who are dying prematurely.
It is important to explore avenues that have the potential to contribute to this longstanding aim. In July we said that we would keep the policy of standardised packaging under review as we examine the emerging evidence. As part of this ongoing work we have therefore commissioned a review with the following terms of reference:
1. To give advice to the Secretary of State for Health, taking into account existing and any fresh evidence, as to whether or not the introduction of standardised packaging is likely to have an effect on public health (and what any effect might be), in particular in relation to the health of children. It will be a matter for the Chair to determine how he undertakes this review and he is free to draw evidence from whatever source he considers necessary and appropriate.
2. The review will report by March 2014.
3. It will be an Independent Review, with advice to the Secretary of State contained in a report. An independent secretariat will be appointed by the Chair, who will set out the method of how he will conduct the review in more detail in due course. The secretariat will be wholly accountable to the Chair, and it will be for the Chair to guide and task them in their work as he sees fit.
We intend to reach a decision on standardised tobacco packaging once Sir Cyril has made his report. The Government will introduce standardised tobacco packaging if, following the review and consideration of the wider issues raised by this policy, we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to proceed, including public health benefit.
The Government also intends to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Children and Families Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords, to table a Government amendment to take enabling powers now which would allow regulations to be made to introduce standardised tobacco packaging later, if it is decided to proceed with this policy.
Cyril Chandler is a medic and therefore almost certain to toe the health lobby's line on this.
How much more time and money will be spent pushing this ridiculous policy? The political class are mesmerised by trivia.