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Norman Lamb: Doh!

By Angela Harbutt

 

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?

Picture courtesy of "Hands Off Our Packs"

Picture courtesy of “Hands Off Our Packs”

You say that:

“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.

Seen elsewhere on this topic: “Norman Lamb:Perfect Example of the Genre” and “Open Minded?

Angela Harbutt is currently campaigning against the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

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Frostie Ban Contingency Plan!

By Sara Scarlett
January 5th, 2013 at 10:22 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, Culture, Lifestyle Products, Nannying

How to avoid being affected by the Frosties ban.

Step 1: Buy Cornflakes. Available from pretty much every local grocery store and Supermarket.

Step 2: Buy Sugar. Also available from pretty much every local grocery store and Supermarket.

Step 3: Put Cornflakes in a bowl.

Step 4: Using a spoon, apply sugar to Cornflakes to taste.

Step 5: Consume.

Don’t tell Nanny…

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The mother of all government apologies is just around the corner…

By Angela Harbutt
March 8th, 2011 at 4:26 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in health, Lifestyle Products, Personal Freedom

…”A health time bomb” is how BBC1′s Panorama described the cigarette counterfeiting crisis facing Britain, in last night’s programme “Smoking and the Bandits“.  The scale of the illicit trade on tobacco is eye-watering – an estimated £4billion in lost tax revenue in the UK every year according to Panorama – though I have seen much bigger figures elsewhere.

The reason why the counterfeit tobacco trade has mushroomed in the UK is obvious… “80% of the cigarette price is tax, making our country the second most expensive place in the world to buy cigarettes“.    And so the proliferation of knock-off cigarettes and rolling tobacco – selling at less than half the price of legitimate tobacco –  has reached epidemic levels. Illicit tobacco is now widely available everywhere…. open air markets, car boot sales, newsagents, pubs, factories and universities up and down the country.

And its not just the lost revenue to the tax man  that should concern us. It’s the fact that the trade is no longer being run by Dell boy down the road with his little white van and entrepreneurial flair. The trade is now run by large well organised international crime gangs using their gargantuan tobacco profits to fund god-knows what else.  One container of illicit goods costing £100,000 returns the gangs a profit of £1million. This is now BIG business for BIG CRIME syndicates. 

And if you don’t care what the gangs do with the money they make, and even less about the loss to the tax coffers, then you might be be concerned by what is actually IN these counterfeit products. A counterfeit pouch of Golden Virginia purchased by the Panorama team had 30 times the levels of lead found in a pouch of legitimate  Virginia – not to mention the humongous levels of cadmium and arsenic found in other fake tobacco examined. This is the “health time bomb” Panorama refer to – let’s not worry about the nicotine right now…….

So how to stop this trade ? Well, the government has already announced an increase in spend for HMRC to stop tax evasion and fraud. How much of the increase will be directed toward stopping illicit tobacco sales is unclear. What ever it is it won’t be enough to catch the veritable tsunami of illicit tobacco that is pouringinto the country (go watch the programme if you doubt me). So the answer to cutting the illicit tobacco trade hardly seems to lie with more HRMC men and their waggy-tail sniffer dogs.

We need a big idea to tackle the illicit tobacco trade – and fast!

One “big idea” staring us all in the face of course is to CUT the duty on legitimate tobacco – to remove the incentive for punters to buy the cheaper  alternatives full of who-knows what heavy metals an poisons. Cutting tobacco tax would almost certainly increase legitimate sales at the expense of  the illegal sales.

Raising tax on tobacco in recent years has, I suggest, not “cut smoking” as the health-fanatics would have us believe. It has driven it underground. Diverting the cash from tax coffers to crime gangs.

Another “big idea” would be for government to liaise with tobacco companies (yes that would involve sitting in the same room) to find ways to make it much more difficult to counterfeit their products (the vast majority of people purchasing the tobacco have no idea it is fake – but assume it has been brought over from elsewhere in Europe) .

So what is the Coalition Government’s big idea?  Oh I know to announce tomorrow (on “No Smoking” Day) the introduction of plain packaging on LEGITIMATE tobacco products. That’ll work (not!).

Criminal gangs must think Christmas has come early. Lets make it 100% easier to sell tax free poison-filled knock-offs and make the cost of the fakery even cheaper – no more complicated forgery to pay for. I can almost hear the whoops of delight from here.

This looks, for all the world, like another government apology in the waiting. What will it be this time… “a misunderstanding”…a “rethink after new evidence came to light”…”a matter of unintended consequences”…

…The best one of course will be the plaintive cry that “we were only trying to save the kids”… Well chaps if you really want to “save the kids” then find a way of stopping the disgusting lead…arsenic..cadmium filled alternatives from wiping out the legitimate stuff that looks like candy by comparison. Because I can tell you that kids are not going to smoke any less as a result of your action tomorrow and if there are two cigarettes that look identical and one is half the price of the other we all know which one the kids are going to buy. ….Oh and if your only answer is that you have “increased funding to HMRC” then you deserve everything that is going to be thrown at you.

Given you seem a bit short on quality PR advise right now let me help..  HOLD OFF … Think long term, not short term. Go for real success, not tomorrow’s headline..Think about what is the effective measure, not what is the easiest measure. Mostly – be very clear of the consequences of what you are about to do… and if you are in any doubt…hit that pause button now.

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Minimum impact legislating – for your own good

By Andy Mayer
January 18th, 2011 at 12:44 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in health, Lifestyle Products, Nudge Dredd

I have a modest proposal. In future all regulation and legislation should be subject to a minimum impact threshold. Where either does precisely nothing of any value to anyone beyond generating mindless bureaucracy to service it, it should be quietly binned, and the minister or civil servant responsible along with it.

This surely is the only way we can tackle the blight of legischolism,  a cruel disease unhappily prevalent amongst politicians of all stripes, that sees sufferers reach for the easy comfort of activity it the hope it will relieve the cravings of interest groups. The temporary respite it affords usually result in far deeper cravings later and gradual deterioration in the condition of the nation until there is chronic economic failure.

Today’s announcementof proposals for minimum alcohol pricing, something the SNP failed to impose in Scotland thanks to heroic opposition from everyone else, has been attacked on all sides as pointless.

Crudely, the level of 24p for beer and 28p for spirits means no legal alcohol can be sold below the cost of the VAT and duty imposed. This on the basis that higher prices restrict people’s ability to drink to excess. Booze however, like most socially and chemically addictive products, impacts us all differently, and in the main demand is inelastic. It takes large changes in price over time to impact consumption. This proposal though does not impact price, it provides the framework to do so in future.

It will not impact demand. If raised in future it will mainly impact low income social drinkers.

Further next to no drinks are sold in the UK at a cost to the retailer. Those that are sold below tax price tend to be from the back of white vans rolling off the Eurostar. These are not retail outlets that comply with the law, and can be linked to organised crime.

It will not impact legal supply, and if raised in future it will largely benefit criminals.

For the 2-6% minority who display a tendency to dependency (alcoholics), demand is very price-insentive. An addict, in denial of their disease, will turn to illicit sources and petty crime to fund a habit they cannot otherwise afford. We can see this in levels of crime associated with prohibited drugs. Addiction cannot be legislated away, it largely rests of the willingness and willpower of the addicted to avoid their poison.

Whether raised or not it wil not help sufferers  tackle alcohol addiction.

I am generally sympathetic to the notion that the social costs of alcohol require a sin tax. For that we have duty, and duty imposed at such a level that like tobacco revenue it already excedes all but the wildest estimates of what that social cost might be. We do not in that regard need new instruments. The issue of discounted booze is principally a competiton matter between supermarkets, retailers, and pubs. It should be dealt with through current competition law.

Taxes should be simple. The law as stands is perfectly adequate to tackle unfair competition.

In conclusion I might understand this move from a Labour government. Nanny knows best and let’s prove our worth through laws were staples of the last regime. But this coalition came together promising such things as one in/one out regulation. This proposition sits entirely at odds with that principle.

Let us hope if the Commons are too addicted to the legimania that leads to this kind of gesture politics, that the Lords will help them kick the habit… for their own good.



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