|Image via prokit.co.uk|
|Image via hellogiggles.com|
Once the screams echoing through the chambers of Parliament have subsided and the tears have dried from the rosy-red cheeks, your next action would be to pen a letter crying foul to the publisher of the magazine who dared to publish a paid advertisement against plain packs. You might demand a correction or a retraction of such an outrageous use of free speech. You would probably demand an apology. You would probably demand a right of reply. In the interest of being fair and balanced, that magazine of course would offer to allow you to present an opposing viewpoint, if only to shut you up.
And we suppose that is pretty much what happened, because Stephen Williams MP's response to the magazine advert appeared in the June 28th issue of The House magazine on page 15. Here are the first three paragraphs.
You may have noticed, two weeks ago, that the cover of House magazine was not adorned as usual with the face of a fellow MP. This is because Imperial Tobacco, a well resourced cigarette manufacturer based near my constituency in Bristol, had spent a large and undisclosed amount of money trying to convince readers that plain packaging of cigarettes is “bad for business, good for criminals”.
This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that plain packaging would lead to an increase in illicit tobacco. Tobacco packs are already easily counterfeited which is why the industry put covert markings on all tobacco packs. Plain packs may not have tobacco brand logos and colours but will retain the health warnings and other markings; they will be no easier to counterfeit.
The tobacco smuggling argument has been reinforced by claims that illicit tobacco is already spiralling out of control. In fact the market share of illicit cigarettes has halved over the last decade, from 21% of the market share to 10% according to the latest figures. This fall has been achieved by a tough anti-smuggling strategy. So why are tobacco companies, such as Imperial, spending so much money to stop plain packaging? They fear it will put off young people from buying their products, which is exactly what I and the Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, want.
Stephen Williams said, "This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that plain packaging would lead to an increase in illicit tobacco." This is what the tobacco control industry always says, but it's a statement without basis in fact, and Williams provides no evidence to support that assertion. In other words, he is saying: "We say there's no evidence, so there must be no evidence." In point of fact, there is plenty of evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in illicit and counterfeit tobacco products -- at least 50 MPs think it will. Even the police say it will. So who to believe? A ratbag politician who works for the tobacco control industry, or the police who see the illicit market first-hand? I know who I'm going to believe in this instance.
Williams also said, "Tobacco packs are already easily counterfeited which is why the industry put covert markings on all tobacco packs." The claim easily counterfeited is also untrue. Perhaps Williams missed this blog post. The packet designs that are counterfeited are always the most popular brands, and they rarely if ever attempt to counterfeit slim cigarettes. So criminals go to great lengths and expense to counterfeit the popular brands because it is worth it in the long run. The machinery that manufactures legitimate high-quality packaging is expensive -- too expensive for even the counterfeiters. So the counterfeiters use very old machines with a much lower-quality printing process. My research indicates that the difference between these printing processes provides the means for how HMRC and tobacco companies to determine whether a product is legitimate or fake. There are no covert markings -- there are production or manufacturing codes, but no special covert markings. Stephen Williams lives in fairy tale world of magical covert manufacturing processes. I doubt he has ever spoken to a packaging manufacturer.
Furthermore, Williams does not give an accurate picture of the illicit market for tobacco products. He cites only cigarettes. He said, "In fact the market share of illicit cigarettes has halved over the last decade, from 21% of the market share to 10% according to the latest figures." First this is an HMRC estimate and they admit they don't know the actual value, and their data show it could be as high as 20% (PDF). It is a mean average on estimates, to be fair. Yes, due to increased border checks and anti-smuggling strategies, smuggling and illicit non-UK duty paid tobacco has decreased (not a bad thing at all), but there are other factors to consider, like a weak pound against the euro or people not travelling as much as they used to. Moreover, Williams's statement neglects the illicit roll-your-own tobacco market, which HMRC estimates to be 49% of the UK market for hand-rolling smokers. So Williams is not telling the whole truth. He's cherry picking the data that suits the agenda of tobacco control. This is what they always do. Ignore the truth, distort the facts.
Finally, Stephen Williams said, "So why are tobacco companies, such as Imperial, spending so much money to stop plain packaging?"
I'll answer that one. Because you and the tobacco control industry are openly trying to destroy businesses, including shopkeepers and retailers, which will in turn increase crime, not to mention further ostracising smokers at every opportunity. Who wouldn't fight against someone trying to destroy your legal business that is taxed higher than any other product sold? This plain packaging campaign is dressed up as a "protect the children" measure, but it really has nothing to do with children. It's about demonising smokers for using a legal product that you don't like. It is yet another black-booted goose-step into the nanny state, a precursor to the plain packaging of anything that the health zealots deem unhealthy. It is always about control.
Let's face facts. Stephen Williams MP got "pwned" big time by The House magazine cover. It embarrassed him and his campaign, and so it came to pass that out of desperation he wrote a response that makes him look like a whining, crying chump. And that brings a substantial amount of joy to my life.