Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Scottish Government welcomes JTI intervention on tobacco duty

Has to be true because I read it in the Scotsman! Japan Tobacco has pointed out that post-Independence the Scottish Government will receive tobacco revenues directly, and speculates that it might think twice about bringing in policies that might jeopardise revenue receipts.

I have to put this in context a little. The suggestion is that the Scottish Government will get revenue-raising powers even if Scotland doesn't go independent. I am still not sure why Westminster would want to encourage devolution of tax-raising powers if the vote is no, because it would allow more divergent economic policies to develop than we have at present – surely the kind of scenario that Westminster rejects when saying that sharing a currency with an independent Scotland wouldn't work.

The Scottish Government clearly want a situation with more tax powers, and in fact I agree with them – it is right that Holyrood should have the responsibility for raising revenues as well as spending them. (I also agree with them that they are unlikely to be able to exercise responsibility fully in a devolved Scotland, but that's not really the point of this article.)

The purpose of the JTI intervention is to sound a warning shot about the Scottish Government's plans for plain packaging of tobacco. I am not aware of any certain evidence about plain packaging deterring youth from smoking. There has been a lot of speculation, but no hard evidence.

I can speculate too, and my speculation is that criminalising the branding of tobacco removes a tool for consumer protection that is designed to reduce counterfeiting, and is likely to result in a race to the bottom in tobacco prices. If such a move is backed by further increases in duty, the illegal market will grow even faster than it is growing currently.

Both these moves will be bad for government smoking cessation plans – for its heralded ambition to make smoking history by 2034 – and for its treasury coffers. Treating e-cigarettes in the same prohibitive way as tobacco, rather than as a probably harmless alternative, will aggravate this effect.

The Scottish Government's comment?
The intervention on devolving duties has been welcomed by the Scottish Government.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: “We welcome all backing for transferring responsibility for duties and revenue to Scotland.
“Only by having control of these key levies can we take forward policies designed to protect public health and boost the Scottish economy.”
They'll have to mull that one over before it's time to produce the first post-Referendum election manifesto.

1 comment:

Heidi Stevenson said...

Here's the issue on plain packaging: It's a matter of international trade agreements that have nothing to do with benefiting governments and countries, but everything to to with benefiting corporations. The problem with plain packaging is that it is considered an impediment to free trade by corporations. Thus, any country that requires it is interfering with their "right" to profit.

What the Scottish government is doing has nothing to do with belief in whether plain packaging is or is not effective to prevent smoking - and everything to do with preventing a legal suit by Big Tobacco later on as a result of already-existing trade agreements. These lawsuits are not tried by open governmental courts, but instead by closed "courts" run by organizations like the WTO.

The issue of impeding free trade is a major one that most people know nothing about, but it's going to affect every aspect of our lives. For example, right now, we have a right to know the country of origin in products that we buy. However, that right is going to disappear because China's corporations consider it an impediment to trade. They are claiming that such labels bias people against products made in China and are, therefore, unfair to them. Thus, countries will either accede and stop such labeling or go to a corporate-run court, where they can expect to lose. The same will happen with labels on cigarettes.

I think it's very important to be aware of the full picture. Be certain that your arguments are not ones that can be used by corporate business, or you'll find that you'll ultimately be undermining your own arguments based on what's right or not for individuals. The fact is that such rights can then be taken up by corporations - because they're now considered individuals, albeit ones with virtually unlimited power, unlike real flesh-and-blood people.