By Matthew Barrett
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Andrew Lansley's consultation on plain packaging for tobacco products ends today. The Health Secretary has support from backbench MP – and medical Doctor – Dan Poulter, in the Guardian today. Dr Poulter argues plain packaging…
"…could certainly help to reduce the brand marketing appeal of cigarettes to teenagers, and most importantly, help to stop young people from developing a smoking habit that can only shorten their lives."
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal, the Health Secretary has two headaches this week. Firstly, the Hands Off Our Packs campaign delivered a petition of over 235,000 people opposing the plain packaging policy to the Department of Health on Wednesday. The Health Secretary is not one to be swayed by petitions, as the recent Health Bill situation showed. He has been open to intra-Coalition opposition, however, so it's perhaps worth noting that Hands off Our Packs is headed by Angela Harbutt, who worked for Sir Menzies Campbell during his time as Lib Dem leader, and now runs the Orange Booker blog Liberal Vision.
"Plain packaging legislation would represent a draconian attack on the freedom of smokers, retailers and manufacturers. Branding on packaging plays an important role in providing information for consumers, helping them choose between high and low-quality products. Accordingly there is a serious risk that plain packaging would lead to more smokers buying counterfeit products containing high levels of dangerous chemicals. Plain packaging is therefore likely to be entirely counterproductive from a health standpoint. The evidence that it would reduce smoking is also highly questionable."
Dr Wellings concludes:
"The government has stated its commitment to deregulation and reducing nanny-state interference in people's lives. Plain packaging legislation would completely contradict these policy objectives by placing strict controls on businesses and restricting choice for consumers."
> Last month I reported on the 34 Conservative MPs who wrote to Andrew Lansley to express "serious concerns" about plain tobacco packaging