Plain cigarette packaging: One in four MPs who opposed measures have declared links to tobacco industry

A majority of MPs voted in favour of plain cigarette packaging

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The Independent Online

One in four of the MPs who voted against introducing plain cigarette packaging today have declared links to tobacco industries in the past, The Independent can reveal.

At least seven further MPs who abstained on the vote have also accepted gifts and hospitality from tobacco firms since 2008, including Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary.

A majority of 254 voted in favour of the controversial measure, which will take affect from May next year. 

But eyebrows were raised by the size of the rebellion on the Conservative benches, with a majority of Tory MPs defying the government’s position by either opposing or abstaining on the vote. A total of 181 Tory MPs failed to support the introduction of unbranded packaging, backed by David Cameron.

An analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests revealed that out of the 104 Tories who voted against, 22 have received hospitality tickets from tobacco firms and another – the former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke – is a former director of British American Tobacco.

Two of the three Labour MPs who opposed the measure also have declared tickets donated by Japan Tobacco International, which owns Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes.

The vast majority of gifts declared by the MPs were from JTI and came in the form of tickets to the Chelsea Flower show, worth up to £1,600.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity, welcomed the result but said the incessant lobbying from the industry on MPs was “disgraceful”.

“[The lobbying] definitely had an impact,” she said.  “It was an overwhelming majority but they swung everything but the kitchen sink at it. The industry has been desperately trying to stop this from happening… they swamped MPs’ inboxes with this and tried to give them a sense that in the run up to the election this could make a difference. I just think it’s disgraceful that MPs would accept hospitality from an industry that kills half of all lifetime smokers, that’s blood money basically.

“Don’t they have any respect for the people who are being killed by these products? They’re benefiting from profits made from other peoples’ death and disability, they're accepting hospitality out of the profits of firms who make those products that kill their constituents.”

Glyn Davies, one of the Tories who voted against, said he ended up not using the tickets to the Chelsea Flower show but decided to declare them nonetheless.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour were willing to comment on the analysis, but Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow public health minister, attacked Mr Cameron for not pushing through the legislation sooner.

“David Cameron has been reluctant to stand up to big tobacco firms and their lobbyists and has failed to show leadership on this issue,” she said. “In the time that has passed since Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of this over a year ago, experts say over 200,000 children would have taken up smoking.

“One child taking up smoking is one too many. Labour wants the next generation to be the first that is smoke-free. The Government must now press ahead without delay to ensure that glitzy packaging for cigarettes become a thing of the past.”

Downing Street said the prime minister was “pleased” the measure had passed and played down the significance of the rebellion. “The whole point of a free vote is that people can express their views freely,” the spokesman said.