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UK Politics

Anger as tobacco firm contests benefits of plain packaging

Makers of Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges launch ad campaign in Scotland challenging restrictions

Health campaigners have condemned a global tobacco company over its advertising campaign challenging the Scottish Government’s plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) – makers of Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges – will today publicly contest claims that banning branding on packets will lead to a reduction in the number of young people starting smoking.

The company plans to reveal correspondence from the Department of Health, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, which it says calls into question the science behind the ban.

Scotland is set to become the first part of the UK to enforce standardised packaging as part of its efforts to make the country “tobacco free” by 2034 – the equivalent of less than five per cent of the population using cigarettes. Smoking rates among lower income communities north of the border remain at 40 per cent. The Scottish government, which led the way in introducing the smoking ban seven years ago, hopes that outlawing branding will make the products less attractive to young people. It is waiting to see the results of a UK-wide consultation before deciding whether to go it alone.

But JTI is publishing Whitehall correspondence from 2011 in which officials state that the new law would have no impact on cutting smoking rates.

UK managing director Jorge da Motta said: “We hope common sense will prevail and that the Scottish Government will disregard this proposal. We have always argued that plain packaging will not prevent children from smoking, but enforcing existing initiatives such as ‘No ID, No Sale’, application of the law that punishes those who buy tobacco on the behalf of children and cutting the illegal supply chain, can work.”

Last year JTI was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority after complaints from health groups over what it said were “misleading” newspaper adverts. The campaign similarly challenged plain packaging research claiming there was no evidence to support the ban and that the idea had been rejected by officials in 2008.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the health charity Ash Scotland, said there was substantial evidence supporting the health benefits of plain packaging.

“Tobacco companies have utter contempt for their consumers and have never intended to make them aware of the harm caused by their products. They have thrown money at misleading people and protecting their investment,” she said.

A ban on the display of cigarettes in large shops and from vending machines is set to come into force in Scotland later this month.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “There is strong evidence which links the promotion of tobacco to the uptake of smoking, particularly amongst young people and we are trying to prevent as many people from starting smoking as possible.”