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May 5th, 2013:

Smoking: the government’s cowardly surrender to the tobacco lobby

It has been a big week for tobacco. The success of Ukip, a party keen to repeal the ban on smoking in pubs, has given cigarette companies an influential ally, one that has being doing sterling work seeking EU subsidies for tobacco growers.

Then came the momentous decision to drop plans that would have forced cigarette companies to sell their products in plain packs, something that even the powerful tobacco lobby must have thought out of its reach a few months ago.

But a relentless lobbying campaign that saw the industry channel money to spurious front groups to attack the plan has paid dividends. Stitching together a coalition that included newsagents, ex-police chiefs, retailers and brand organisations, not to mention hundreds of thousands of the public who signed a petition, the lobby strived to show the plan was unwanted and unworkable. Dire warnings were made of small shops going to the wall and thousands of jobs going abroad. The Treasury was warned that plain packs would be easy to copy, providing a major fillip to the counterfeit (untaxed) cigarette manufacturers.

Similar arguments were made in Australia by a big tobacco-funded campaign masterminded by a lobbying firm run by David Cameron’s election guru, Lynton Crosby. But Australia’s government introduced plain packaging last December. So far, there is no evidence that the dire predictions made by the tobacco lobby have been realised.

The tobacco industry argues that there is no evidence that plain packs discourage young people from starting to smoke. But inspection of tobacco industry documents released as a result of lawsuits reveals that the industry has been preparing for the battle for at least a quarter of a century. It will deny it, but the tobacco industry understands how brands lure in young smokers. It needs this new generation to replace the older one that it is killing. The UK government has a mandate to improve the health of its citizens. Last week, it failed them.