07 December 2014

Please Write to Your MP about Plain Packaging for Cigarettes

I was disturbed to read in the Guardian that the UK government may be wavering on introducing plain packs for cigarettes.  Failing to do so before the General Election would be seen as a huge victory for the tobacco companies, and have knock-on effects around the world. 

I have therefore written to my local MP, and I'd like to urge you to do the same, asking them to press for the relevant legislation to be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.  You can do that very easily using the excellent WriteToThem service.  Here's what I've sent:

I am writing to you about the introduction of plain cigarette packaging regulations: I was disturbed to read the relevant legislation might not be introduced before the General Election. 

As a journalist who writes about international trade among other things, I have been following closely plans to introduce plain packs around the world.  In particular, I have written about legal action by Philip Morris against both Uruguay and Australia as a result of health measures they have taken to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by smoking (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121226/09522221488/treaty-shopping-how-companies-tilt-legal-playing-field-investor-state-arbitration.shtml

As you know, what is particularly interesting about these cases is that they use the highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process in order to claim an indirect expropriation of property.  Since the company is doing this through subsidiaries - one in Switzerland, the other in Hong Kong - it is not even clear whether those cases can proceed. However, it is evident that one of the main reasons Philip Morris is taking this route is to intimidate other countries thinking about bringing in plain packs measures.  Indeed, New Zealand has put its own plans on hold pending the result of the Australian case, which shows that strategy is having its effect.

I would therefore like to urge the UK government to place the regulations governing plain packets before Parliament as soon as possible.  This is vitally important not just for the health of British people, but for millions of people around the world.

If the UK government holds off on its plans to introduce plain packaging, this will be taken as a sign that such a move is likely to be contested by the tobacco companies.  Smaller nations that are unwilling to take the risk of losing what can be punitively expensive cases - Philip Morris is demanding $2 billion "compensation" from Uruguay, a huge chunk of its entire health budget - will be discouraged from joining the global movement to making cigarette packets less attractive to young people.

If, on the other hand, the Government is bold and moves forward with the UK legislation, this will send a very strong signal to nations around the world that it is both morally the right thing to do and feasible in practical terms.  More governments will follow the UK's lead, and it will be impossible for tobacco manufacturers to use crude legal threats to intimidate them as they find safety in numbers.

In other words, the decision on this issue could literally change the course of history in this area. This is not just about helping many thousands of people in the UK to avoid taking up smoking, with its concomitant costs, both in terms of health and money, but about saving millions of lives around the world.  I therefore urge the UK government to bring this legislation before Parliament as soon as possible: every day's delay means more unnecessary suffering and deaths.

Thank you for your help in this important matter.