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Saturday, 31 March 2012

About alcohol packaging, and putting economic needs first

On Thursday ASH Scotland's daily news bulletin featured more stories on alcohol than on tobacco: one story on gum disease and alcohol (you are more likely to get gum disease if you are alcohol dependent) and another discussing plain packaging for alcohol products.

This is more interesting, and is now being considered by the Health Select Committee, which also wishes to consider raising the legal age of drinking. As things stand at present, UK legislation in this area would be binding on Scotland, and clearly the Scottish whisky industry is less than pleased at the prospect of not being able to distinguish Laphraoig from Buckfast.

In a manner typical of the licensed trade, the whisky industry seems to hold the view that it's okay for other sectors to fall foul of clumsy and ill thought out government legislation,  but not their good selves:
Campbell Evans from the Scotch Whisky Association told The Scotsman that while a plain packaging measure might be workable for tobacco products, it would be far harder to implement for alcohol.
The Scottish National Party in the person of its Westminster leader Angus Robertson is quoted saying that the whisky industry must be promoted, and the SNP has warned against plain packaging for alcohol. One wonders if they ran this policy before colleagues at Holyrood (a few of their number signed a motion on plain packaging for tobacco: Willie Rennie, S4M-01640).

Will the SNP base any of its independence campaign on defending the whisky label, even while it goes along with the plain packaging policy for tobacco? Time will tell. This is an instance where the economic interest at stake has asserted itself more readily than in the case of tobacco. Will ASH Scotland back off from the alcohol debate if it cannot accept the SNP's support for the alcohol industry?

It seems likely that even tobacco control has had to give way to economic pressure in Wales, where the Welsh Assembly government are considering relaxing the smoking ban on TV sets to allow smoking under certain conditions. The idea is not to lose out to studios operating under English smoking laws, which exempt filming and TV studios. When completing the consultation on this proposal I suggested that relaxing the ban would enable Welsh TV production companies to gain business from Scotland. (I couldn't help myself. The guidelines included ensuring that no children or other members of the public were present during filming smoking scenes, and the questions asked whether respondents felt this would give sufficient protection from smoke to children and the public.)

So this watertight smoking ban that is so good for the economy is seen to harm TV production companies as it prevents them from showing things authentically, in their true likeness – and the Welsh Assembly looks prepared to act to change this situation. The idea of allowing thousands of bars and customers to live more authentically by allowing smoking in adult recreational establishments is clearly in a parallel universe. But the chink has been made in the armour. Smoking bans ultimately hurt business.

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