Reasons why we oppose plain packaging of tobacco
Children don’t start smoking because of the packaging
The case for standardised packaging of tobacco is based on the fallacy that children are attracted to smoke because of exposure to so-called “colourful” or “glitzy” packaging, and that without branding far fewer children or young people would be tempted to start. This argument is based not on hard fact but on speculation and conjecture. There is no credible evidence that standardised packaging will have any effect on youth smoking rates.
Plain packaging isn't a priority
According to a recent poll by Red C for Forest Éireann, just nine per cent of people surveyed thought standardised packaging is the policy most likely to reduce youth smoking rates in Ireland. In contrast more than half the people surveyed thought health education in schools would be most effective in reducing smoking rates. Given a list of four issues the Minister of Health should prioritise in 2014, plain packaging ranked last on just 4 per cent. In contrast, 45 per cent wanted the Minister to prioritise the health budget overspend, 32 per cent childhood obesity, and 18 per cent under-age drinking. Minister of Health James Reilly has made plain packaging of tobacco a personal crusade but only a very small minority think it’s the best way to stop children smoking. Even fewer want it to be his number one priority in 2014.
The nanny state
Plain packaging represents another step towards a nanny state in which adult consumers are increasingly infantilised by politicians who don’t trust people to make decisions for themselves. The health risks of smoking are very well documented. Cigarette packs are have hidden from display in shops and other retail outlets in Ireland since 2008. In 2012 graphic health warnings were introduced and in 2016, following the adoption of the European Union's revised Tobacco Products Directive, the size of health warnings will be increased to cover 65 per cent of the front and back of the packet. Isn't that enough? Why do we need plain packaging?
As consumers we are concerned about the slippery slope. Once standardised packaging is introduced for tobacco it is inevitable the policy will be considered for other potentially unhealthy products. The treatment of smokers is setting a dangerous precedent because the same tactics can now be applied to consumers of other products. How long will it be before public health campaigners call for alcohol, fatty food, sugar or even confectionery to be sold in plain packaging?
We do not want children to smoke. Smoking should be a choice for informed adults only and we support all reasonable measures that prevent or discourage children from purchasing or consuming tobacco. The proposal to introduce standardised packaging is neither reasonable nor justified. There is no credible evidence to suggest it will work. If government really wants to protect children from smoking it should seek tougher enforcement of existing laws and focus on further education in schools. Plain packaging is gesture politics. It won’t stop children smoking and there are other more important issues the Department of Health should prioritise in 2014.