Coffee House

Sarah Wollaston: Tories are ‘pandering to election strategists’ on plain packaging

12 July 2013

3:10 PM

12 July 2013

3:10 PM

Sarah Wollaston is angry. Again. This time it’s about plain packaging on cigarettes. She told the World at One that the decision to stall introducing plain packaging was ‘pandering to election strategists’ and that this was a ‘very sad day for public health’. You can listen to the full interview below:-


Now, this is obviously deeply annoying for the Tory leadership as it hardly helps them tackle the narrative that they’re always caving into their friends in big business. Even more annoying, perhaps, for Anna Soubry, who unlike Wollaston had to back the decision in the Commons this morning even though she personally supports plain packaging. In response to an urgent question from Diane Abbott, Soubry said:

‘One one country, Australia, has adopted the policy, which it introduced on 1 December last year. New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland have announced they intend to follow suit. We intend to wait, so we can benefit from the experience of countries such as Australia that have introduced standardised packaging. In the meantime, I want to promote wider public debate about whether we should introduce standardised packaging in this country, including in this House as well as in the media.’

Poor Soubry found herself being ridiculed by Abbott, who said ‘you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the honourable lady, who has been forced to be the face of this humiliating policy U-turn’.

Soubry surrendered the right to say what she really thinks about a government decision when she accepted the public health job (although she didn’t seem that chuffed with the job offer, anyway). But is Wollaston right to speak out so forcefully against her party leadership? That depends on whether you think it is good for backbenchers to be so tribal that they never hold the executive to account. It is their job as members of the legislature to make life uncomfortable for the government on behalf of their constituents, and parliament works much better when MPs do this, rather than just doing as the whips tell them. Some of the best moments of this parliament have come when MPs have said what they think about the way their leadership is behaving (my personal favourite was the speech delivered by Charles Walker on the day the government rushed out its legislative response to Leveson – it is well worth a read if you missed it). Perhaps it would make parliament more appealing to impressive potential parliamentary candidates, too, if we saw more backbenchers doing their proper job, and if parties let them do it.

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Show comments
  • jazz606

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Having plain packaging for cigarettes isn’t going to interfere with the habits of hardened smokers and minimum alcohol pricing would have so little effect that it’s hardly worth the bother of implementation.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I am sure you are right. Yesterday I saw a child in the street (well a girl of about fourteen) rolling herself a cigarette. Or maybe it was a jont. What do I know? Packaging didn’t seem to come into it. Though I suppose the roll-up tobacco comes in a package. And the fag-papers, come to that. When I was young some of my friends used to roll up dried lettuce leaves. I never quite had the stomach for that.

  • jazz606

    “……… Even more annoying, perhaps, for Anna Soubry, who unlike Wollaston had to back the decision in the Commons this morning even though she personally supports plain packaging…….”

    This is the trouble with our MPs, they toe the party line rather than standing up for what they believe in.

  • Mynydd

    The government held an extensive consultation exercise on the pros and cons of plain packaging, and reported it findings and conclusion to the government 12 months ago. As I understand that it was in favour of plain packaging. Why the wait, was it that Mr Cameron was looking around for a reason to kill off plain packaging, and came up with this. Forget all the time and the money spent, we are basing our policy on what happens in Australia. What happens if results in Australia show the benefit of pain packaging before the next general election. I am sure Mr Cameron’s government will change again and base its policy on what happens in New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, or maybe even Zimbabwe. Anything is see it through the next general election. Mr Cameron always maintain that union donations to the Labour party mean they dictate policy, so logically, when big money donate to the Conservative party they dictate policy. Two sides of the same coin. No plain packaging until a change of government in 2015.

  • Fergus Pickering

    OK. She said what she thinks and it’s rubbish that can, and will, be safely ignored.

  • Alex

    I totally defend Sarah Wollaston’s right to express her views.

    How else would we know that she’s yet another tedious authoritarian.

  • Hello

    I didn’t start smoking (in year 9) because of the packaging, I started smoking because it was damn cool. Imagine my horror when I moved into year 10, and the new intake of year 7’s came along:

    “Do you want me to roll you one?”, he asked.

    “Yeh, sure”

    “I got a nice bit of hash in town”

    Boy, could that eleven year old roll a joint — he was a pro. I was so not cool anymore. Incidentally, from what I remember, the hash came in very plain packaging, and we were all deterred. “I ain’t touching that!”, I remember my friends screaming, “Look at the packaging! Are you insane? That stuff looks dangerous!”

    • telemachus

      Sounds like you have been at it today

  • kyalami

    If plain paper packaging has no effect on cigarette sales, why are the tobacco companies so against it?

    • itdoesntaddup

      Because it makes counterfeit and contraband much easier to market, so it affects their sales, not the overall level of consumption (which might increase, given that illicit sales tend to be at rather lower prices).

      • kyalami

        Do you have any evidence to support this claim?

        • itdoesntaddup

          Is that your counter-evidence to what is self-evident?

          • ButcombeMan

            You were asked a civil & reasonable question,a question I asked earlier of another.

            If you have the evidence, produce it.

            I would like to test that evidence myself. “self evident” is a weak argument, weak because the mainly Chinese counterfeiters seem to have no difficulty copying major brands so that to the uninititiated the packets are identical.

            Personally I doubt the statement despite it being so often made and I doubt the tobacco companies, purveyors of addiction, illness and death, have that evidence either.

            And even if it were true, if reducing visibility of cigarettes, reducing branded advertsising and de-glamorising of smoking had the health benefits & long term effects on overall consumption, particularly on early user consumption, a net social benefit is highly likely.

            It does sound as if Cameron and Clegg have capitulated to the tobacco lobby.

            Cameron, persuaded by Crosby or not, has yet again, been weak. He really is an appalling cardboard cut out of a leader.

            • itdoesntaddup

              Be assured, copying the flavour of a reputable brand is far more difficult than copying the packaging. Smokers themselves know whether they have bought something genuine or counterfeit.

              I presume you know that the lifetime healthcare costs for smokers are lower than for non-smokers, because they don’t live to require expensive treatments for other diseases. Likewise, their pension costs are lower. Killing off smoking has increased our welfare bills, if that is what you call a net social benefit.

              P.S. I do not smoke.

              • ButcombeMan

                The difficulry of copying the “flavour of a particular brand” does not seem to have deterred the counterfeting or the tax loss.

                Of course smokers KNOW they have bought counterfeit, the evidence is that is no deterrent because we are dealing with addiction.

                Your other remarks are silly, If a disease or diseases can be prevented, it should be, is my stance.

                The effects of drugs and social costs of drugs like tobacco or alcohol are not just to the user.

                I DO notice you do not respond with evidence. Bluff called I think.

                Pathetic. You are outclassed here, mentally.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  The intellectual weakness is yours. It is quite wrong to spend bottomless amounts of money on disease prevention: spending needs to be in proportion to benefit.

                  Here is evidence:



                  You of course have cited no evidence at all, and merely proved that you are economically illiterate.

                • ButcombeMan

                  Oh Dear. Do get a grip.

                  The first of those documents contains this gem:

                  “At this stage, it is not possible to base an assessment of plain packaging on direct evidence”

                  Exactly my point, there is none. You have produced none despite your no doubt frantic Googling when your bluff and bluster is called,.

                  If you are going to try to argue your case logically, here, you really must do your homework or attempt it. Despite the quoted Australian paper on printing, history has shown there is no real difficulty for the organised counterfeiters in producing ANY, yes ANY, packet desigh. This is BIG business, why should a little matter of printing handicap anyone using modern technology?

                  There is absolutely no point either, in putting forward the whingeing papers paid for by the merchants of death and illness, ie Big Tobacco, as “evidence”-of anything. OF COURSE they whinge, of COURSE they do, they know that deglamorising smoking and reducing initiation into addiction is the best way to eat into their profits. They also know that it will improve population health.

                  Secondly there is no reckless spending on disease prevention by moving to plain packaging. It is just fact that tobacco addiction impairs health and causes death and decreased quality of life for many addicts and their families. Reducing that addiction, if it can be done, makes sense for societies.

                  While a case can (just about) be made for very modest consumption of some types of alcoholic drinks, no such case can be made in the case of tobacco or nicotine.

                  Finally, EU based plain packaging across the industry would actually work AGAINST the smuggling of non-EU Branded tobacco goods, it would make it harder for trafickers in non-counterfeited goods. A fact that Big Tobacco hardly acknowledges because it is inconvenient.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  Do read through

                  The firm Saueressig – a leading specialist in printing and packaging – conducted
                  an experiment in which they tried to counterfeit regular cigarette packs and
                  Australian-style plain cigarette packs. Saueressig concluded that it is easier,
                  cheaper, quicker and less risky to counterfeit plain cigarette packs (Statement on
                  Plain Packaging and Counterfeit Tobacco Products. Saueressig, March 27, 2013)

                • ButcombeMan

                  I read it before. You have a failure of comprehension.

                  It is irelevant in the context of the debate. When the industry jumped on this concept they were grasping at straws, so are you.

                  It would only be of significance if the counterfeiters had found reproducing ANY packing difficult. To major counterfeiters, copying packaging is of very minor sgniificance. It is not an issue and modern technology has made it easier.

                  In fact the industry knows that the major change of implementation of plain packages would be a hiccup for counterfeiters, the industry people steer clear of that because it does not suit their purpose.

                  Some in the industry did not even want to use the counterfeiting argument, so spurious was it thought to be, as a debating point.

                  Another own goal; about which there has been much debate within the industry were the estimates of job losses and tax losses. If they are to be as significant as suggested, what they really go to show is that plain packing would be effective in reducing consumption.

                  The industry tells lies and misleads, but it has become a victim of its own evil doing. It has really struggled to produce a logical case, just as you have.

                  In the end they would probably be better sticking to simple bribery of politicians.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, who was instrumental in bringing about packaging reforms in Australia, admitted ‘It’s going to probably take them a good many years to see whether or not there has been an accelerated downturn.’

                  Sounds like he’s been taking lessons from the climate change mob to me: the chief proponent of this measure says it won’t have a measurable effect for years. Is that the best they can come up with?

                • ButcombeMan

                  It is the best because it is true. It is about long term cultural change. Stopping new users and new addicts.
                  Cultural change inevitably takes a long time,

                • itdoesntaddup

                  Nonsense. It’s simply authoritarian, nanny-knows-best, make yourself feel good imposition based on no credible evidence that brooks no admission of alternatives.

                • ButcombeMan

                  So having failed with your debating points you retreat to your basic position. Fair enough. A view, but not one many non addicts hold.

                  I know that Question Time audiences may not reflect real public opinion because of inbuilt BBC leftie bias, but according to Dimbleby J, 99% of the studio audience believed in plain packaging.

                  Cameron has made yet another, unforced error.

                  Did Crosby lead him into it?


                • itdoesntaddup

                  That would be the same “error” made by Andy Burnham and Alan Johnson then. Quoting opinions of packed question time audiences is rather like listing Stalin’s election results.

                • ButcombeMan

                  Do not try to be smart, it does not suit you. I acknowledged that caveat, repeating it adds nothing.Your whole argument s a mess. You are basically out of your depth. I am done with you.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  You’re just a bad loser.

          • kyalami

            I don’t need counter-evidence. You’ve made a claim: do you have evidence to support it? Hm, thought not.

  • HookesLaw

    I am sure plain packaging would ‘send a signal’, but would it be received?
    Given that many people buy smuggled or ‘fake’ cigarettes I doubt it.
    So its a reasonable policy and not unreasonable to see how it might be working out.

    • telemachus

      But my son anything that can reduce ingestion of this killer if only by a fraction is justified

      • Colonel Mustard

        Anything that can reduce the ingestion of your toxic and lethal comments is justified.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Oh nonsense. Anything that can (insert your own particular hobbyhorse) is justified. Can’t you see what kind of a statement that is? Anything that can ensure the return of a Labour/Conservative government is justified. Anything that can reduce speeding in built-up areas is justified. Anything that can reduce the level of hooliganism is justified, And so on..

  • itdoesntaddup

    Of course Woolaston’s voice should be heard. So should the wider evidence on the effects of such measures on promoting the sale of contraband of dubious composition and provenance, including further erosion of the tobacco tax base (which still manages to exceed by a wide margin the costs of treatment of smoking related illness, never mind the saving in pension costs that reduced life expectancy generates).

    It should be remembered that Australia is far better insulated from smuggling than the UK is.

    • ButcombeMan

      “the wider evidence on the effects of such measures on promoting the sale of contraband of dubious composition and provenance”,

      Can you point me at that evidence? By evidence I do not mean what the Tobacco companies say. Mandy Rice Davis applies to them.

      I see no reason why plain packaging and tax stamps should not in fact make sales of tobacco goods of “dubious content & provenance” rather harder than it is now, at least for a time, until the Chinese off-record factories catch up.

      Australia is no better insulated from misdescribed containers of Chinese counterfeit cigarettes, than is the UK by the way.

    • mhjames

      Poor Australia

  • Mark Myword

    But is she speaking on behalf of her constituents? I do not know how many in Totnes support plain packaging – does she? In fact she is speaking on behalf of another constituency, that of medical bossyboots who want to regulate everything we (and our children) do. Eat this, dont eat that, drink this, dont drink that, run dont walk, get a good nights sleep, dont smoke, dont drive, cycle everywhere (even to the outside privy), dont get stressed even while trying to spread 1 gram of cottage cheese on a dry Ryvita. But if you do get ill, even after following all the good advice, dont bother the doctor – if you can find one open, or A+E – its too busy with all those who didn’t follow good advice. Dr Wollaston b—-r off.

    • Colonel Mustard

      And don’t go into hospital if you are over 85 because having spared no expense or missed no opportunity to nag you incessantly about your lifestyle choices before you did they will as sure as heck make sure you die of neglect, filth, dehydration and/or starvation when you do.

      A little too much prevention these days at the expense of cure it seems.

    • telemachus

      That is just the kind of junk that stimulates folks like me to propose an absolute ban on operations for those still smoking and liver transplants for those still drinking

      • Colonel Mustard

        Taking them into a dark forest for one in the back of the head seems more your style. “Folks” like you need no stimulation for your fascist ideas.

        • telemachus

          You know well that Smolensk was the opposition

          • Hexhamgeezer

            Filth, pure and simple.

            • telemachus


              A large number of Polish Officer Class and intelligencia were found dead in the forest near Smolensk

              They all had been killed by German Bullets

              The Russian Leader was aware of their disappearance

              There were some intelligence reports from Beria that they
              might have gone to Siberia

              At the end of Gorbachev’s rule it was in his best interests
              to show the 1940’s regime up in a bad light

              • Colonel Mustard

                Why do you have to keep lying about this? Why are you trying to exonerate Stalin of this murderous act?


                The internal Soviet memoranda about the murder are now in the public domain and implicate both Stalin and Beria. It has never been suggested they are anything other than genuine by all the historians studying the subject. The only people not accepting this are Stalinist cranks like you.

                The Soviet Union imported German pistol ammunition before the war in huge quantities, specifically of the type found at Katyn and the NKVD particularly favoured German pistols for executions

                Even the Wiki entry trumps your appalling and insulting misrepresentation:-

                “The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by Lavrentiy Beria’s proposal to execute all members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940. This official document was approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000. The victims were murdered in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons and elsewhere. Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, with the rest being Polish intelligentsia arrested for allegedly being “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests”.

                But here is what you wrote about me in another thread, you repulsive little weasel:-

                “Or are you a closet Taliban
                This would not surprise any of us in someone denying the effects of German bullets all those years ago”

                It is not the effect of those bullets I am “denying” but your lies about who fired them.

    • Charles Hedges

      The ‘medical bossyboots” you hold in such contempt save lives. To defend the right of tobacco barons to take those lives is despicable, to disguise this as a ‘free speech issue’ is blatant mendacity. Go support concesaled weapon laws as in the Us, and do your killing in the steet and not by proxy.

  • sarahsmith232

    large proportion of the nanny staters are female MP’s. it looks like the only reason why she became an MP was to better enable her to chip away at our freedoms. they believe that they have to save us from ourselves because when given the freedom to choose we are all so useless that we can’t work out that living an almost tee-total, risk free, sugar free, enjoyment free existence is the healthier option. so they as our far more intelligent, moral superiors must tax and legislate fun, enjoyment, wild abandonment out of existence.
    apparently the first thing women did when they got the vote in America was vote for prohibition, minus their new votes it wouldn’t have happened. apparently, females are still refusing to accept what happens in society when pleasure is banned. it’s embarrassing.

    • telemachus

      May I recommend that you go on one of Martin Davidson’s courses on leveraged difference in managing diversity

      How You Adopt a Leveraging Difference Mind-set

      “Having the sort of problem-focused mind-set that is prevalent in the Managing Diversity frame is not the worst thing in the world. Diversity problems do need to be identified and solved. But the opportunity-focused mind-set of the Leveraging Difference frame is where the real value in diversity is. How then can a leader shift from one frame to the other? A broad set of knowledge and skills make this shift possible. And it takes time to fully change one’s mind-set. But three actions can be instrumental in helping leaders transform how they approach difference.”

    • Colonel Mustard

      Well said.

  • Bonzodog

    I think she is putting her role as a doctor above that as an MP. And so she should.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Actually I don’t think she should. She should be representing her constituents views. By all means let her bring her expertise into play in doing that but too many modern politicians seem to be using their public roles to ride their private hobby horses.

      • HookesLaw

        Represent her constituents views? Does she split herself and her votes in two?
        There is a limit to how much an MP is a representative as opposed to a delegate. (and vice versa – in case I got that the wrong way round!)

        • Colonel Mustard

          No, but the basic premise of our democracy is representative and there is a fine line between delegation and personal agenda.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    One hardly needs sympathy on being ridiculed by the arch racist hypocrite Flabbot.

    • telemachus

      Anna Soubry and Diane Abbott are both former ITV reporters who were NUJ branch officials in the 1980s – at Central TV
      But then you knew that

      • Hexhamgeezer

        I refer the dishonourable gentleman to my previous answers (all of them come to that)

  • Colonel Mustard

    I’m not surprised at the backlash to this decision, given the number of fake charities earning lucrative salaries from the anti-smoking agenda, the size of the quangocracy, ditto, and the increasingly strident health lobby who have moved from prevention advice to prevention enforcement. Personally I think it a victory for common sense and freedom of choice and some of the supposed “compelling” statistics trotted out to support the plain packaging agenda ridiculous.

    We have to decide whether we really want to become a country where half the people who work in proper jobs pay increasing amounts of tax to fund the other half who work in jobs telling them what they can and can’t do.

    • jazz606

      “………a victory for common sense and freedom of choice ……”

      More like a victory for venality and stupidity.

    • Charles Hedges

      Colonel Mustard is the ally of tobacco murders.

  • telemachus

    Wrong picture
    You should have used Farage