Simon Clark: when is a Liberal not a liberal?
Answer: when he (or she!) supports a measure like plain packaging
IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE to launch this blog with a gentle dig at Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, and a keen advocate of plain packaging for tobacco.
Two weeks ago Williams wrote on his own blog that he was "pleased to help launch Europe’s first major campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of glitzy tobacco packaging to children".
The campaign, Plain Packs Protect, brings together all the usual suspects (ASH, Smokefree South West, British Heart Foundation etc) plus one or two that might require some investigation (Trading Standards Partnership South West, for example).
According to Williams:
"The primary aim of the campaign to introduce plain packs of cigarettes will be to protect children and young people from the subtle marketing techniques of the brand owners ... Plain packs would be the same size, same colour, same font for the product name and nothing else other than the health warning. The Silent Salesman would not just be mute, he’d look very dull and lonely.
How liberal is that?! The next step, I imagine, is plain packaging on alcohol, sweets and fizzy drinks.
Since the launch of Plain Packs Protect anti-tobacco campaigners, many of them employed by the state, have been tweeting and a-twittering. How excited they are! For anti-smoking fanatics plain packs represent the Holy Grail. In the words of Australia's leading tobacco control activist Simon Chapman, "Plain packs will make smoking history".
Personally I prefer the sentiments of artist David Hockney, a great friend of Forest and an outspoken critic of "dreary" anti-smoking politicians.
Striking back at Simon Chapman and other "haters of tobacco", Hockney wrote (Guardian, 28 January 2012):
Why doesn't Mr Chapman debate with a good and satisfied customer of the tobacco companies? Someone who has seen what will replace it as a smoothing, calming contemplative helper. Someone whose friends died of alcohol consumption, not tobacco. Someone who has smoked for nearly as long as he has lived. Someone who knows about the fanatical attitude of haters of tobacco. Someone who is not so naive about advertising and packaging.
Well said, David. (See David Hockney attacks "haters of tobacco".)
Meanwhile, writing on my blog Taking Liberties a couple of weeks ago, Stephen Williams commented: "Whether you like it or not the Coalition Government is about to launch a consultation on plain packs. I hope you and your friends will be able to rise to the debate."
We'll do our best, Stephen, we'll do our best.
Oh, and I hope you will accept our invitation to take part in a public debate on the issue in the very near future. As a self-styled Liberal it's the least you can do.
PS. We are not alone in querying Stephen Williams' liberal credentials. Even Liberal Democrats have been asking questions. See Stephen Williams is not a liberal (Liberal Vision, 16 November 2011)
Last year the Government held a public consultation on whether the UK should adopt standardised (or 'plain') packaging of tobacco products. Over 235,000 people signed the Hands Off Our Packs petition. In total, around 500,000 people signed petitions against plain packaging, compared with 210,000 who signed petitions in favour of the measure. The Department of Health is still reviewing the consultation responses so watch this space. If you would like to receive e-updates about our campaign please enter your details below and click the relevant boxes for Forest/Hands Off Our Packs. You can unsubscribe at any time.