Today it was revealed that lung cancer cases continue to rise amongst women. Sadly, I was not surprised to hear this news. Tobacco is responsible for the vast majority of lung cancers, and the marketing of cigarettes and tobacco is increasingly aimed at young women. You only need to take one look at some of the long, slim, flowery packet designs currently available in the UK to see that. The packaging looks more like something for a perfume or a lipstick than for a deadly and addictive substance.
I think it is time that we stopped allowing manufacturers to use cigarette packs as advertising boards for smoking. Instead we should be using them solely to convey the dangers of smoking, using large pictorial warnings.
Which I why I welcome the UK government’s decision to launch a consultation on plain packaging for tobacco. There are not many things that I would be able to work on with Andrew Lansley, but I hope that we can find some common ground here.
Because this year the European rules on tobacco packaging will be revised, and I want to see plain packaging rolled out across the EU. Of course it would be a big step forward if the UK government introduced plain packaging. However it would be much more effective if we had EU-wide legislation that would protect all 500 million Europeans from misleading tobacco marketing. If the rest of the single market is doing the same, it will be much easier for the UK to put new legislation in place. I hope that during negotiations between the European Parliament and the governments of EU countries, I can count on the UK’s support.
Plain packaging is a measure that would instantly reduce the appeal of tobacco to young people. This is demonstrated by research carried out by the British Heart Foundation which found that nearly 90% of young people found plain packaging less attractive. Even more telling is the tobacco industry’s fierce opposition to the proposal. It is a measure that wouldn’t cost the UK taxpayer a penny, but would cut down on the huge £5 billion it costs the NHS to treat diseases directly caused by smoking. But most importantly we wouldn’t see headlines about the rise of lung cancer in women, the headlines would be about cases of cancer, and other preventable diseases caused by tobacco, on the decline.