Anti-smokers’ smear tactics

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CEBR is a leading professional economics consultancy with a proud reputation for getting its forecasts more nearly right than other economists. Our entire business depends on our credibility and we would be unlikely to put this at risk by knowingly making wild or misleading claims on behalf of any of our clients.

An alliance of anti-smoking campaigners has attacked our work in your columns (Letters, 25 August) stating that we had predicted that “serving times following a display ban [for tobacco products] could double. It makes for great headlines – but it didn’t happen.” But the tobacco display ban for small shops, which are the main shops affected, does not come into force until April 2015. So it couldn’t have happened yet!

The anti-smoking campaigners are either unaware of this, which shows a culpable degree of ignorance, or are being extremely dishonest in attempting to mislead the public.

Anti-smoking campaigners have consistently tried to bury their heads in the sand about the economic effects of anti-smoking regulations.

In 2005, CEBR wrote a report which predicted that the smoking ban in pubs would cause sales to fall and thousands of pubs to close. The anti-­smoking campaigners tried to assure us that this wouldn’t happen – but it did.

They are now claiming that plain packaging will reduce smoking without any economic effect. The only evidence so far is from Australia, which so far has shown little impact on smoking though no one has yet reviewed the economic effects. Because of Australia’s geographic remoteness, one would not expect the same impact on, for example, illegal imports, that might occur in the UK, so it is not possible to generalise from their results. And the fact that the Australian government is facing a court action for confiscation of intellectual property with a potential cost if applied in the UK of more than £5 billion has been one of the factors that has led several governments, including that of the UK, to back off from introducing a similar regulation, for the time being.

Anti-smoking campaigners (many of whom work for organisations that are well funded and with highly paid senior staff despite their charitable status) would do better to stop trying to smear and bully those who point out the practical implications of their proposals and instead use their energies to try to minimise those effects which are negative – and we would be happy to work with them if they do so.

Douglas McWilliams, 
chief executive, CEBR

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