Only a short while ago Norman Lamb MP was one of our best. He stood up, and spoke out, on principle against needless government intrusion. A true poster boy for all those liberals amongst us who object to the nanny state telling adults how to live our lives.
Back in 2008, when the the Labour government suggested hiding cigarettes behind shutters in shops, Norman was one of the first to speak out. As Shadow Health Minister he rightly stated :
“This is the nanny state going too far.”
And he didn’t stop there. He also said
“This will hit small businesses with added costs while there is no clear evidence that it will actually reduce the number of young people smoking.”
And indeed he said this:
“The Government is obsessed with headline-grabbing gimmicks instead of tackling the real problems. Buying tobacco for children must be made a criminal offence. Ministers also need to clamp down on the shockingly high amount of tobacco that is smuggled illegally into this country.”
Where is that man we wonder? Roll on to 2013 and, when in a position to actually have an impact on the excesses of the nanny state, low and behold he pops up in the Guardian saying:
“As a liberal I would always defend someone’s right to smoke, if that’s what they choose to do. But, given we’re dealing here with a product that kills between 80,000 and 100,000 people a year, I think it’s legitimate for government to seek to control the marketing of that deadly product…”
Well, Norman, nothing has changed since 2008. Cigarettes are bad for you. Sure. But no more than they were in 2008, when you were against the display ban. Adults should be treated as adults – even when you are in power.
If ever there was a policy that was nothing more than a “headline-grabbing gimmick” (your words), banning coloured boxes must surely be it? What happened to your concern about the impact of policy gimmicks on small businesses? And why choose this point to ignore the 500,000 voters who registered their opposition to this policy during the consultation? Back in 2008 your concern was rightly focused on the black-market and proxy purchasing. Why, when in power, choose to support a policy that will make it actually easier and cheaper for organised crime to counterfeit cigarettes? You were against the tobacco display ban – but it was introduced anyway – why not at least wait to measure the effectiveness of that policy (and the ban on tobacco vending machines) before arguing for yet more legislation?
“I think it would be a legacy for this government to have legislated on something which would be a landmark public health reform and to be out there in front in Europe.”
Great. If that’s the case [or indeed if it is, as it seems, just the usual politician's desire to be "seen" to be doing something] here are a few policies that may assist you in leaving a health legacy you can actually be proud of.
1. Clear the path for e-cigarettes. This revolution is leaving you behind. Hundreds of thousands are electing to choose this product – yet you waste your time on ruling what colour of boxes you think adults should look at – a campaign gimmick that is untried, untested and unwanted. If you want to be “out there in front of Europe” then let’s get as many e-cigarettes out there as possible. If you hadn’t noticed – they are working – unlike the tired, unimaginative and dangerous “more of the same” policies coming from those in tobacco control. Note that Chris Davies [Libdem] MEP seems to be way ahead of you [see "Politics at it should be done"]
2. Introduce a ban on proxy purchasing (your idea from 2008). Smoking is an adult pursuit. If your concern is children, then make it illegal to purchase cigarettes on behalf of minors.
3. And while you are at it, increase the penalties on those caught selling cigarettes to kids.
4. Act on counterfeiting. Fake cigarettes sell at half the price of UK duty paid cigarettes. Quite attractive to cash strapped youngsters don’t you think? They are sold to minors at school gates, car book sales and markets. They don’t ask for ID, and they don’t care who they sell to. Why not introduce some serious penalties for smuggling and counterfeiting?
That is just four for starters – and they really do start to look like a liberal legacy we can all be proud of.
PS: With great relief we note that education minister, David Laws, and the Home Office minister, Jeremy Browne are reported to remain firmly against this policy.
Angela Harbutt is currently campaigning against the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.