Scotland’s stupidity over plain packaging for cigarettes

This article originally appeared on the Telegraph online, November 11, 2013

In yet another skirmish in the war against smokers, Scotland has announced that it will be introducing Soviet-style plain packaging for cigarettes in 2014/2015.

They will be the second country to do so, following Australia, who enacted plain-packaging in December 2012.

Michael Matheson, Scotland’s public health minister, was keen to acknowledge Australia’s influence on his decision-making. He said: “I am very encouraged by the early findings coming out of Australia following [the] implementation of plain packaging there”, adding “we will, of course, continue to take account of any new evidence emerging from Australia as we move toward a consultation on the next steps in Scotland in the New Year.”

However, Mr Matheson is conveniently ignoring the latest facts on plain packaging to emerge from Australia. The accountancy firm KPMG LLP released a report on 4 November, which highlighted how the Australian government has lost 1 billion Australian dollars in the 12 months ended in June, as a result of the vast jump in black market sales of cigarettes.

In Australia, illicit sales of cigarettes have increased from 1.5 per cent to 13.3 per cent of total shipments, while – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the pseudoscience and speculation that have been used to justify plain packaging – cigarette consumption has not dropped.

According to KPMG, there was a rise of 154 per cent in sales of manufactured “illicit whites”, as counterfeit cigarettes or fake brands are known. One of these is called Manchester. It has a 1.4 per cent market share, which, when one considers that it is illegal, is an impressive feat.

Such evidence shows that plain packaging as a measure is not only ineffective at its intended purpose of reducing smoking, but that it has a negative impact on government revenue, and, perhaps more importantly, it violates consumer choice, and destroys brand recognition.

So, why has Mr Matheson not acknowledged this report in his claims today? After all, he has claimed that he will “continue to take account of any new evidence emerging from Australia”.

However, when one observes the whole picture, it soon becomes apparent. Currently, the Scottish government are orchestrating a campaign to stop tobacco being consumed by 2034, and they see plain packaging as a key aspect needed to kick-start this project.

This objective is no secret. It is laid out in the Government’s Tobacco Control Strategy, Creating a Tobacco-Free Generation, which states: “In setting out our aspirations for a tobacco-free Scotland, we have decided – for the first time – to set a target date by which we expect to realise this ambition. This date is 2034. In setting this target, we have defined ‘tobacco-free’ as a smoking prevalence among the adult population of 5 per cent or lower”. The document goes on: “Our overriding aim in setting this target is to create a generation of Scots who do not want to smoke. A child born in 2013 will celebrate their 21st birthday in 2034. Creating a Scotland for that young adult, largely devoid of tobacco use – with all the health, social and economic benefits that entails – would be an achievement of which we could all be proud.”

Mr Matheson has acknowledged the role that plain packaging will have in realising this objective, stating: “introducing plain packaging will make an important contribution to our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and achieve our target of a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034.”

Therefore, for him and his fellow antismoking activists, it is not of their concern whether plain packaging reduces cigarette consumption in the near future or not. Rather, it is another piece of legislation which will further stigmatise and punish smokers for their vice, and will thus – they wrongly believe – aid their efforts to create a generation of children who view tobacco with the same horror that others might view heroin.

Yet what Mr Matheson and bellicose campaigners fail to understand is that the generations they wish to protect from those nasty big tobacco companies will smoke, just as countless generations have done so before them. Indeed, it has always been the case that children smoke to appear mildly rebellious. Even George Orwell, arriving at Eton as a shy and young Eric Blair, took up the habit immediately on learning that it was strictly forbidden. Plastering packets with nasty imagery will do little to change this. And there is no scientific evidence to suggest otherwise.

That an elected official believes it is his right to foster his tastes and his preference onto the whole of Scottish society is sinister, ominous, and insulting, not only to smokers, but to all individuals in Scotland who have the ability to think for themselves. That Mr Matheson has done so in the face of such overwhelming evidence against plain packaging, is, quite frankly, sheer stupidity.


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