Tobacco groups renew offensive on plain packs

THE BATTLE over plain cigarette packaging intensified yesterday when Japan Tobacco International (JTI) stepped up an advertising operation opposing the measure, despite having been slapped by the UK’s advertising watchdog for its previous campaign.

JTI said it had uncovered evidence, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing that the government had no proof that plain packaging would prevent young people from taking up smoking.

The firm’s new advert displays an email from the Department of Health to its counterpart in Australia – where plain packaging has recently been introduced. The email says: “One of the difficulties regarding [plain packaging] is that nobody has done this and therefore, there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works.”

The debate over the issue is likely to become fiercer today, when the Centre for Economics and Business Research publishes a study claiming that 30,000 jobs at small retailers would be at risk from the policy.

The report, commissioned by Marlboro owner Philip Morris, claims that tobacco purchasers would move to buying from supermarkets and street dealers, cutting off a lifeline for smaller shops.

JTI’s new advertising blitz comes just weeks after it was forced to stop displaying adverts saying the government had rejected plain packaging in 2008 because there was no evidence to support it.

The Advertising Standards Authority had ruled that the advert was misleading, giving the impression that the government had dropped support for the policy.

The Department of Health has recently closed a consultation on the issue, and will make a decision shortly.