Saturday, 11 May 2013

Plain packaging in an independent Scotland?

Handwringing has occurred at the failure of the Queen to announce that Her Majesty's government was about to force tobacco into plain packaging. Here's an example, provided by the Telegraph, in which a vast quantity of medics berate the government over the omission and hammer home the notion that health is key to government policy:
The health of the people is surely the highest purpose of government, so it is chilling to hear that the Coalition does not consider the prevention of ill health and premature mortality to be part of its role
I suppose that is what you would expect doctors to say, and as it happens I agree that a Conservative government would prioritise corporate interests over public health more than I would like. But as it happens, I don't happen to believe that plain packaging is a policy that has any particular merit – the evidence for it has been collated entirely by people employed specifically as tobacco control advocates and suffers disastrously from a lack of objectivity. Government sources know that most people start smoking before they can buy tobacco legally, indeed it is only a matter of years since the legal age of purchasing tobacco was raised, and smokers generally tell you that they were given cigarettes by friends before they could purchase legally.

Even if plain packaging were guaranteed to bring down smoking rates, I wouldn't necessarily consider it health priority, as there are so many other environmental health problems including everything from general aerial pollution, to mineral depletion in the soil.  

But we were talking about Scotland. Personally I have made no final decision on this issue. A Herald leader characterises the Queen's Speech as led by UKIP: it excludes legislation to allow gay marriage, and commitments on foreign aid. Some of its points are well made, for example will restrictions on immigration involve GPs and landlords being responsible for vetting their patients or tenants? However it refers to plain packaging as 'progressive' and looks forward to 'going our own way' on plain packaging and minimum pricing, playing right into the hands of those who ridicule the outcome of a Yes vote on the Scottish referendum as the beginning of a thousand year rule for Eck.

There are too many doubters about the wisdom of Scottish independence for this to be a likely political outcome. The Scottish Socialists also support independence, and it is very unlikely that people who have been persuaded into voting for independence, their own warts-and-all goverment rather than the mess (devolution) that we currently have, will be content with a one-party state, whatever the SNP expects at present.

Plain packaging is supported by Cancer Research UK, which is a fanatically anti-tobacco organisation. Its Tobacco Action Group, which funds research into tobacco and cancer, will generally only fund research that finds tobacco responsible for most cancer and supports further restrictions. Such prejudicial conditions are anathema to real scientific investigation and I would not want it to be the basis of policy in Scotland under any circumstances, whether independent or not. The whole tobacco control agenda is pushed by ASH Scotland, an organisation that gets minimal private funding: this does not speak for its popularity.

Those pushing for independence should realise that they have to fight the impression created by the media that they want independence inside a yellow packet adorned with Alex Salmond's picture. He is no more responsible for the popularity of Scottish independence than 'pretty packaging' is responsible for the young taking up smoking. A Yes vote can only occur if the result is expected to improve genuine public participation.

Until I've read more I will still be neutral on this issue. Tobacco control is what we are up against, because it is designed by a global health body that is directed by pharmaceutical interests rather than real health needs.


Rosemary Williams said...

Excellent points, Belinda.

Junican said...

I don't understand why people seem to find it so difficult to see the REAL motivation of ASH ET AL in standardised packaging. These are (well, two of them anyway):

1. Gaining legal control (via regulations) of the SIZE and SHAPE of cigarette packets.
2. Destroying as far as possible the ability of tobacco companies to compete with each other.

It has nothing to do with children.

Scotland has been isolated as far as PP is concerned. This is very bad new for Tobacco Control for a reason which is not obvious. That reason concerns the EU trading laws. I suspect that another reason for the introduction of PP in England and Wales was to put pressure on the EU to exempt tobacco from EU trading laws. Imagine the consequences! None of the rules regarding the sacrosanct position of competition would apply - and all for the benefit of children, don't forget.

Michael said...

The quote from the Telegraph leaves me stunned.'The health of the people is surely the highest purpose of government'.
What about national security, the economy, employment and ensurimg a decent standard of living for the people? (Not to say that any Government in the last thirty years and more has much of a record on any of these issues, but that's by the way.) And not being familiar with the Torygraph I wonder where it stands on the selling off of the NHS, I can only imagine.
As for conflating a vote for Scottish independence with a vote for Alex Salmond, one might as well say that an Italian who complains about a late train wants a return to the rule of Mussolini.
An independent Scotland would mean the people of Scotland would decide who governed their country. Something we haven't had for...well, ever.
Ignore the prophets of doom with their scaremongering of Brussels and the New World Order ruling our new country and take our affairs into our own hands
Follow the words of Scotland's (unacknowledged) National Bard and 'So come a' ye at hame wi freedom, never heed what the hoodies crook for doom. In yer hoose a' the bairns o' Adam will find breid, barley and painted room.'
[Hamish Henderson. 'Freedom Come A' Ye']