The letter from Sheila Duffy and others (14 January) neglects to mention the very simple fact causing the UK government to “drag its heels” over the standardised packaging of tobacco products is that it must abide by the European Commission’s “standstill period” for new legislation.
The draft regulations had to be submitted to the EU under a “technical notification”.
The original standstill period was for three months but as the technical notification has attracted detailed opinions from 11 member states, the standstill period has been extended to six months.
This means quite simply that the UK government cannot take any further action until at least the beginning of March 2015.
From the point of view of retailers in Scotland the standstill period is very welcome. The draft regulations outline terms of imprisonment for retailers of up to two years for any offences related to standardised packaging.
This completely lacks all balance and proportionality.
On behalf of our members, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation has written to the new EU Commissioner for the Internal Market asking her to conduct an urgent review of the draft regulations and amend the proposed penalties for retailers.
Overall, the key tobacco-related problems we have in Scotland are: the proxy purchase of tobacco for use by young people, the illicit trade and health inequality. Plain packaging will do nothing to solve any of these and has the potential to worsen the illicit trade.
It is not too late to reconsider this ill thought-out and irrelevant legislation.
Scottish Grocers Federation
Sheila Duffy and others ask what is “causing the Westminster government to drag its heels on a commitment to introduce plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products”.
The answer is simple. Following the publication in April 2014 of the Chantler Report, which recommended the introduction of plain packaging, the government said it was “minded” to introduce the policy after a “final, short” consultation. That six-week consultation closed on 7 August.
One factor that must be troubling ministers is the level of opposition to plain packaging.
Our campaign alone submitted 53,000 letters plus a further 97,000 petition responses opposing the measure. This is in addition to the 465,000 people who opposed plain packaging in response to a 16-week consultation in 2012 (238,000 supported it).
Another factor is the continued absence of evidence from Australia, where plain packaging was introduced in December 2012, that the policy has had any impact on smoking rates. There is, however, evidence that illicit trade has increased and that must be a concern for ministers. Finally, no fewer than 11 EU states have challenged the proposed legislation, as they are entitled to do. As a member of the EU Britain has to follow due process and respond to their concerns according to a fixed timetable.
I’m surprised ASH Scotland and other public health professionals aren’t aware of this (or have chosen to ignore it).
Hands Off Our Packs