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June 30th, 2012:

MP opponents of plain-packaging for cigarettes accepted hospitality from tobacco giant

MPs who signed a letter calling for the Department of Health to abandon a proposal to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes have accepted hospitality worth thousands of pounds from a major tobacco company, it can be revealed.

Cigarettes on display in a shop in Glasgow. Photo: PA

By Cal Flyn

11:43AM BST 28 Jun 2012


Description: Tobacco facts

The open letter, which warns that the new policy ‘threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector’, will be delivered to the health secretary Andrew Lansley tomorrow.

Of the 51 MPs who have signed, six have each accepted tickets and lunch at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show worth more than £1,100 from Japan Tobacco International (JIT), which owns the Silk Cut, Mayfair and Benson & Hedges brands.

They were Brian Binley, Stephen Metcalfe, Therese Coffey, Laurence Robertson, Karl McCartney and Alun Cairns.

Martin Dockrell, director of policy at the campaign group Action on Smoking Health, said: “This is how it works: a couple of MPs take a ‘little harmless hospitality’ from big tobacco.

“It’s all very cosy. Next thing, those MPs are having a word with other MPs and the tobacco company gets its letter to the health secretary. Job done.”

Binley, MP for Northampton South, also accepted two tickets to the opera festival Glyndebourne from the company last spring, valued at £1,132.

He told the Telegraph: “I have not acted immorally. [JIT] made a kind invite that I accepted on that basis.

“From the perspective of freedom, people who smoke are victimised. No-one is doing very much about the 40,000 who die from eating too much every year.”

Metcalfe, Coffey and Robertson also denied that there was a conflict of interests.

Robertson added: “If companies cannot compete through brand loyalty and their packaging, they would resort to competing on price and that would make the matter worse.”

The letter was initiated by the MP Ian Paisley, whose constituency North Antrim contains a JIT-owned tobacco factory in Ballymena.

It reads: “There is no reliable evidence that plain packaging will have any public health benefit,” adding that a standardised packet design could make tobacco smuggling easier.

The letter continues: “This policy threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector… Jobs in design and branding as well as those in manufacturing and printing are all at risk over the proposals.”

Japan Tobacco International has spent more than £23,000 courting MPs in the last eighteen months.

Defence minister Philip Hammond also attended the Royal Chelsea Flower Show last year with his wife as guests of the company.

Crispin Blunt, the under-secretary of state for justice, accepted tickets to watch test match cricket at the Oval in August valued at £695.

There is no suggestion that either Mr Hammond or Mr Blunt have taken any pro-tobacco action as a result of the hospitality they received.

In November, Labour MP Alex Cunningham wrote to the parliamentary standards commissioner after seven MPs who had accepted hospitality from the firm – including Coffey, Metcalfe and Cairns – voted against his Private Member’s Bill banning smoking in cars carrying children.

The commissioner’s office said it had not upheld any complaints on the issue

Chinese national charged with smuggling counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes worth $1M-plus into US – The Washington Post

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Chinese national is facing charges that he smuggled more than $1 million worth of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes into the United States, federal authorities in Rhode Island said Friday.

Lin Xiao Wei is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday in U.S. District Court in Providence. Federal prosecutors say Wei has been in federal custody since June 4, when he was arrested in Miami. He is charged with selling and dispensing a counterfeit tobacco product and fraudulently importing a counterfeit tobacco product.

An affidavit filed in court detailing the accusations against the 32-year-old Wei also alleges he discussed dealing in counterfeit Viagra and claimed that his associates purchased the mold for a soon-to-be released Nike sneaker. The affidavit says because of the purchase, counterfeit versions of the shoe would be available for sale before the sneaker made it to U.S. stores.

A message left Friday for Wei’s public defender wasn’t immediately returned.

Federal agents began investigating Wei, who is also known as Marvin, in February, according to an affidavit signed by John A’Vant, a lieutenant with the Rhode Island state police who also serves on a task force organized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

Authorities used a confidential source who arranged a deal with Wei and met with him in Dubai and Miami, A’Vant wrote.

On Feb. 10, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used an undercover business entity to wire $56,150 to a bank account in Hong Kong tied to Wei, A’Vant wrote.

The money was a half payment for a 20-foot container of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes, A’Vant wrote. In total, the government paid more than $136,000 for the cigarettes, shipping and customs fees, the affidavit said.

The cigarettes were shipped from China in a container that claimed to hold 696 cartons of leather products that were bound for Rhode Island, according to the office of Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha.

The container arrived on April 27 in Miami, where federal agents found 17 pallets of cigarettes inside labeled as Marlboro, A’Vant wrote. Investigators sent a sampling of cigarettes to the parent company of Marlboro cigarettes manufacturer Phillip Morris International Inc. of Richmond, Va., for testing. The testing found that the cigarettes weren’t real Marlboro cigarettes, A’Vant wrote.

Wei arrived in New York on May 28 and later met with the confidential source and an undercover law enforcement officer in a hotel room in Miami on June 3, A’Vant wrote.

During the meeting, which was recorded without Wei’s knowledge, Wei said he was visiting the United States for the first time and was concerned about being discovered by the FBI, A’Vant wrote.

During the conversation, the undercover officer discussed buying more counterfeit cigarettes as well as counterfeit Viagra from Wei, A’Vant wrote. By the time Wei arrived in the U.S., federal agents had already wired him $9,450 to purchase about 900 counterfeit Viagra tablets, according to the affidavit. Wei told the officer he had previously shipped counterfeit Viagra to the U.S. and London, A’Vant wrote.

During that same meeting, Wei also said his associates spent $200,000 to purchase the mold of a Nike sneaker that was about to be released and planned to make a counterfeit version of the shoe available before it went up for sale in U.S. stores.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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