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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Writing on the Wall

I know some of you don't care about plain packaging because smoking was never about the packaging for you. We all know that plain packs won't change smoking uptake or cause anyone to quit smoking.  I also know that many of you buy your tobacco abroad, which I fully support. So I'm addressing this primarily to those of you who cross-border shop.

Your cross-border shopping trips are in real danger, and I'm not talking about HMRC and UKBF screwing you over when you come back to the UK, although that's a problem too.  Cross-border shopping is in danger because the zealots know that it too needs to be banned in respect of tobacco products in order to maximise the plain packs effect.  If you can legally buy branded goods in other countries and bring them over, you are a danger to their plan. So they have to deal with you. Harshly.

First, let's look at what's already happened. I'll use Australia as an example out of necessity. (I know that Simon Clark said that he didn't believe the Australian legislation would set a precedent, but I don't think he's right on this one.) 

Australia passes plain packaging laws, and at the same time they limit bringing in duty-free cigarettes to a single packet. That last bit is very important.

Why would they do that?

Well, I believe they did it to make sure that genuine, branded duty-free tobacco products would not be seen out and about in Australia. Gasp! Kids might see a gold packet of B&H! The True Believers will dress up the duty-free limitation as a tax issue, but it's yet another confidence trick.  It's also about ensuring that only their message of hate appears on tobacco products. Most of them anyway.

And if you think that won't happen here, then do think again, and please think real hard on it.  I see several possibilities that may happen. This list isn't exhaustive, mind you.

1. The UK does not implement plain packs and nothing changes in the EU. (obviously best case, but very improbable)

2. The UK chooses not to implement plain packs knowing that the EU will do so anyway within a year or two. (probable)

3. The UK implements plain packs and the EU does not follow, leaving plenty of branded legally-bought tobacco in the UK. (improbable, but I'll explain why below)

4. The UK implements plain packs and the EU does as well.  (probable to most likely scenario)

There are few other possibilities, but these are the important ones, particularly to cross-border shoppers. 

Consider item number three. I said it's improbable. But let's say that does happen for the sake of argument. What would the Public Health lobby do?  You know that answer to that, just as I do.  They would demand that the UK limit or cease all importation of branded tobacco products bought for personal consumption.

Because remember, they are arguing that the packet design itself is harmful and that you are walking billboard for the tobacco industry.  And if that argument is accepted, then they will need to ensure that no branded goods can enter the UK legally.  The Department of Health Hate will then insist on limiting any importation of tobacco products for personal use, and this will kill off the cross-border shopping trade as well as duty-free tobacco shopping outside of the EU.  (Legally, we are now bound by our EU Free Trade agreement, but do not dare to think for a moment that an exception won't be made in respect of tobacco, and later alcohol.)

Naturally, if items 2 and 4 happen, then it's a moot point. All packs in the EU will be "anything but plain." That just leaves the duty-free stuff to deal with.

I hate to say it, but Item 1 is just never going to happen unless the world goes tits up this year or next year. Even if common sense prevails in this country, we cannot control the monster that is the EU Parliament and it's unelected committees.

I could be wrong, though. I hope I am wrong. And it's possible the UK may seek to address the cross-border shopping "problem" by continuing to harass those who do buy stuff from Belgium, or even prohibit personal use shopping due to revenue-gathering reasons. But then I read stuff like this letter from Sheila Duffy of ASH arguing for plain packs, and I see the writing on the wall immediately:
In addition, illegal brands from overseas, and legal brands imported illegally, would be easier to spot if lawful products were in plain packs.

Plain packaging is a measure to protect children and young people – and is not expected to cause many adult smokers to quit.
She doesn't come out and say we need to stop cross-border shopping, because that would show her cards and it would start a battle with those who do cross-border shop or trade in cross-border shopping (ferries, etc.), and that would weaken the Public Health zealots' campaign for plain packs. She knows it. But read between the lines and see it for what it is.

I've seen several variations of the "legal brands imported illegally easier to spot" comments over the past week. They are gearing up towards this end. They want to make legal, branded goods from anywhere illegal. Say goodbye to cross-border shopping and duty-free cigarettes. It's all part of the WHO's plan, after all.

But imagine if the UK is the only EU country to adopt plain packaging. And there you are, standing outside trying to roll up a fag in the wind and cold rain, and you take out your Belgian-bought Golden Virginia hand-rolling tobacco, displayed in public in all its children-harming glory.  What happens then?  Do the police start asking you questions about your branded tobacco pouch? Do they come and search your home?  Do you get arrested and have to prove that it's legally bought?

I can think of far worse than only that. But the anti-smokers want any and all of these things to happen. They want to put smokers in jail, because they believe you are killing babies. Think about the possibilities of plain packaging laws. They will harm a great number of people, and will save no one.

So, for those of you who don't care about plain packaging, but you do shop in Belgium or wherever in the EU to get your tobacco, you might want to jump on board here, guys. You may not care about plain packaging, but the anti-smokers care a lot about your shopping habits.

And you, too, drinkers. You're next!