Tobacco industry told Government it was too early to tell if plain cigarette packaging would work – six months later ministers agreed

 

Deputy Political Editor

A major tobacco firm told the Government it was too early to assess whether selling cigarettes in plain packets would deter smokers – six months before ministers deployed the same argument.

In a meeting with Department of Health officials, representatives of Philip Morris International (PMI) said there was “limited evidence” as yet on the success of a similar policy in Australia.

Last week the Government infuriated health campaigners by delaying a decision on whether to introduce plain packets in England. It explained it needed more time to assess the evidence from Australia, but Labour claimed its announcement followed pressure from the Tory election adviser, Lynton Crosby, whose lobbying firm is employed by Philip Morris.

Minutes of a meeting between company executives and civil servants were released yesterday by the Department of Health following a freedom-of-information request. They state: “PMI said that there is limited evidence from Australia as to what the effect of standardised packaging so far, largely due to the short period of time since its introduction.”

On BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, presenter Eddie Mair quoted the words back at Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, and asked if he agreed.

Mr Hunt said it was “correct” that he did not disagree with the assessment – before being told it was a direct quote from the tobacco firm during its discussions with his department.

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