By Matthew Barrett
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On Friday, 50 MPs, including 34 Conservatives, wrote a letter to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, expressing their "serious concerns" with the Department of Health’s proposal to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.
The letter stated that:
"There is no reliable evidence that plain packaging will have any public health benefit; no country in the world has yet to introduce it. However, such a measure could have extremely negative consequences elsewhere. The proposal will be a smuggler’s charter. … this policy threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector, and over 65,000 valued jobs in the associated supply chain. … Given the continued difficult economic climate, businesses should not be subjected to further red tape and regulation"
The signatories of the letter also expressed concern about the freedom aspect of blocking any branding of tobacco products:
"…we believe products must be afforded certain basic commercial freedoms. The forcible removal of branding would infringe fundamental legal rights, severely damage principles around intellectual property and set a dangerous precedent for the future of commercial free speech. Indeed, if the Department of Health were to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products, would it also do the same for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and all other products deemed unhealthy for us?"
The letter concluded:
"With the display ban, which will remove the visibility of tobacco products in shops currently being phased in across the UK, we urge the Government to reserve judgement and to cancel proposals for standardised packaging after considering fully the host of unintended damaging consequences that will result in its introduction."
The Tory MPs who signed the letter were:
- Steve Baker (Wycombe)
- Guto Bebb (Aberconwy)
- Brian Binley (Northampton South)
- Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
- Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West)
- Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan)
- Douglas Carswell (Clacton)
- Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
- Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal)
- Philip Davies (Shipley)
- Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock)
- Richard Drax (Dorset South)
- Charlie Elphicke (Dover)
- Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks (and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party))
- Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green)
- Simon Hart (Carmarthenshire West and Pembrokeshire South)
- Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)
- Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
- Greg Knight (Yorkshire East)
- Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)
- Karl McCartney (Lincoln)
- Anne Main (St. Albans)
- Stephen Metcalfe (Basildon South and Thurrock East)
- Nigel Mills (Amber Valley)
- David Nuttall (Bury North)
- Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton)
- Mark Pawsey (Rugby)
- Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East)
- Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
- Mark Spencer (Sherwood)
- Bob Stewart (Beckenham)
- Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West)
- Robin Walker (Worcester)
- Robert Walter (Dorset North)
It's worth noting that an Early Day Motion in support of plain packaging from earlier this year attracted the support of only four Conservative MPs – Peter Aldous (Waveney), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Fiona Bruce (Congleton) and Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire).
The full text of the letter can be read via Guido Fawkes.