Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Anger at cigarette packs decision

Ministers are set to postpone a decision on the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes

The Government is facing the fury of health campaigners after plans for plain packaging for cigarettes were put on ice while it emerged minimum pricing of alcohol will be killed off altogether.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said a decision on whether to go ahead with plain packaging in England would be postponed until ministers had had a chance to assess the impact of a similar scheme introduced last year in Australia.

Meanwhile, it was reported Home Secretary Theresa May will formally confirm next week - before MPs finally break for the summer - that the Government has dropped plans for minimum pricing of alcohol in England.

Downing Street denied the Tories' elections strategist Lynton Crosby - who has been linked to lobbying by the tobacco industry - was responsible for the delay to plain packaging.

However, there was widespread suspicion that he was behind the decision - even among some Tory MPs.

Mr Crosby, who was brought in last year after masterminding Boris Johnson's re-election as London mayor, has reportedly advised David Cameron to "get the barnacles off the boat" and concentrate on the core concerns of voters such as the economy.

Conservative backbencher Sarah Wollaston, a GP who has campaigned for both plain packaging and minimum pricing, said the result would be more lives ruined for the sake of political expediency. "RIP public health. A day of shame for this government; the only winners big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers," she wrote on her Twitter feed. "What a tragic waste of an opportunity. 'Barnacles scraped off the boat' AKA more lives ruined for political expediency."

A Downing St spokesman insisted Mr Crosby had no involvement in the decision on plain packaging although he acknowledged that he did take part in meetings in No 10. "He is not employed by the Government. He is employed by the Conservative Party as an adviser to the Conservative Party. He doesn't have a pass for Downing Street. He doesn't have a desk at Downing Street. Does he attend meetings at 10 Downing Street? Yes, he does," the spokesman said.

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett has written to Mr Cameron demanding "clear and unambiguous" answers about how the decision was made.

He wrote: "Suspicions have been raised that the change in policy has been influenced by your election strategist, Lynton Crosby, who has reportedly worked as a lobbyist for clients in the tobacco industry. You have repeatedly been given the opportunity to allay these suspicions, and have consistently failed to do so. Instead, you have been evasive, answering questions which you were not asked or refusing to respond to questions altogether." He added: "Until you give clear and unambiguous answers to all of the straightforward questions that have been put to you, suspicion will remain that you have something to hide. If you have never discussed tobacco or alcohol policy with Lynton Crosby, and if he no longer has business links with the tobacco or alcohol industries, why won't you just say so?"

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