CONSERVATIVE election adviser Lynton Crosby today denied that he has had “any conversation or discussion” with Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue of plain packaging of cigarettes.
Mr Crosby, whose lobbying firm is reported to have worked for tobacco giant Philip Morris, said that any suggestion that he had used his position as an adviser improperly was “simply false”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband last night accused Mr Cameron of “bringing big tobacco to the heart of Downing Street” by hiring the Australian polls guru as an adviser shortly before ditching plans for standardised cigarette packages.
Suspicions that Crosby may have discussed the issue with the Prime Minister were fuelled when Mr Cameron repeatedly insisted he had not been “lobbied” by his election strategist, but declined to say whether he had had a conversation with him about tobacco.
But in a statement issued today by his company CTF Partners, Mr Crosby said: “The Prime Minister has repeatedly and clearly said that I have never lobbied him on anything, including on the issue of tobacco or plain packaging of cigarettes.
“What the PM said should be enough for any ordinary person but to avoid any doubt or speculation let me be clear. At no time have I had any conversation or discussion with or lobbied the Prime Minister, or indeed the Health Secretary or the health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues.
“Indeed, any claim that I have sought to improperly use my position as part-time campaign adviser to the Conservative Party is simply false.”
The Government’s decision to shelve plans for plain tobacco packaging in England was widely condemned by public health bodies, which argue that the packs could help save thousands of lives by cutting the number of young people taking up cigarettes. The Scottish Government has reaffirmed its commitment to introducing plain packagaing.
A study of the early impact of a similar scheme in Australia yesterday revealed that tobacco sold in standardised packaging is considered “less appealing” and makes smokers “prioritise quitting”.
Reports suggested that Mr Crosby - who worked for the Tories in the 2005 general election and masterminded Boris Johnson’s re-election as London mayor - had told the Prime Minister that Tories needed to “get the barnacles off the boat” ahead of the 2015 poll by focusing on core issues and dumping policies of only peripheral interest.
Labour have also highlighted links between Mr Crosby’s lobbying firm and private healthcare and alcohol companies.
Mr Miliband last night called on Mr Cameron to “come clean” about his discussions with Mr Crosby, accusing the PM of “weasel words, evasion and no answers”.