Letters: Guard children from smoking

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 3 May, 2013

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As doctors we believe that standardised tobacco packaging should be introduced internationally to reduce smoking uptake among children and young people. Tobacco packaging is designed to make tobacco products attractive, to distract the attention of smokers and potential smokers from health warnings, to reduce the perceived harm of the product, and build brand identity and loyalty.

In December 2012, Australia became the first country to legislate for plain packaging of cigarettes with no brand identification and graphic health warnings and images. Plain packaging was a challenging two-year battle for the Australian federal government and the health industry. The implementation of plain packaging identifies Australia as a nation leading the way in progressive public health schemes.

Evidence shows that plain packaging is less attractive to young people. Health warnings are prominent and effective and remove any misconception that some brands are “safer” than others. As a result, plain packaging of cigarettes is likely to reduce smoking uptake among children and young people. The Australian government’s brave and ground-breaking initiative should be echoed around the world, as children and young adults everywhere deserve the same protection.

In the UK, two thirds of regular smokers started smoking before the age of 18; two fifths started before the age of 16. Approximately half will manage to stop smoking during their lifetime. Following consultation, the Department of Health is due to decide on whether to introduce legislation for standardised packs. We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to join Australia in this important measure to protect children from starting to smoke.

Sir Richard Thompson, President, Royal College of Physicians

Dr Hilary Cass, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Dr Leslie E Bolitho AM, President, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, London NW1

Legal aid cuts undermine  equal justice

The ministry of justice in their consultation “Transforming Legal Aid” propose price-competitive tendering and the  removal of a defendant’s right to choose a solicitor who will work for legal aid rates to represent them. Defendants who need legal aid will be allocated a lawyer, with no regard to choice about distance, language, sex or previous professional relationship. This lawyer will have a fixed block of contracted work and no incentive to work hard for their reputation.

Our neighbours require a quality of defence which is driven by choice to ensure a fair system of justice and avoid costly miscarriages of justice.

Martha Whitehead, Solicitor, Manchester

My wife is a solicitor who is a co-partner in a small firm that specialises in legal aid. Hers is the only legal aid firm in David Cameron’s constituency and has a close relationship with Base 33, a youth charity which works with young people from troubled backgrounds and which our Prime Minister has supported in the past.

As a result of the recent slashing of legal aid, combined with the fact that from June 2014 licences to practice in the Thames Valley region will only be granted to four firms (likely to include big operators who will seek to cut costs by using legal reps, rather than qualified lawyers, for much of the work) it is looking certain that my wife’s firm will be forced to close and that Base 33 will lose its vital support.

Around 75 per cent of those previously entitled to claim legal aid are now no longer eligible and the timing of the cuts, when so many people may need to challenge the attack on welfare benefits, is monstrous.

Contrary to media myth, my wife’s firm operates on very tight financial margins and we will be forced to move from our rented home. But what is most at threat is equal representation before the law.

Alan J Fisher, Finstock, Oxfordshire

Prison not a holiday camp

Chris Grayling has announced a tightening of prisoners’ privileges. In the prison where I taught for 17 years, TV was a privilege which could be withdrawn for bad behaviour, and prisoners had to make a payment from their wages to get one. All privileges were conditional on good behaviour.

Prison education – where we saw many prisoners advance from sub-literacy to Open University level – was  the lowest-paid “work activity”. Urging prison governors to make education the highest-paid work option would really do something to boost rehabilitation.

Richard Humble, Exeter

Without profits, no new drugs

We strongly deny any accusations of profiteering aimed at the pharmaceutical industry (“The real cancer killer: rip-off prices for drugs”, 29 April).

In fact, the profits companies make in the UK are capped by government. Medicine prices in the UK are already among the lowest in Europe, and the proportion of the NHS budget spent on new medicines is set to fall in real terms over the coming years.

Pharmaceutical companies can only create medicines if the £1.15bn research and development cost of bringing a new product to market can be recovered by the profits generated during the period of patent protection.

Companies also need to factor in the huge risks involved in medicine development: only one in every 5,000 molecules screened becomes a treatment and of those medicines that reach the market just one in five goes on to recoup its costs. It is important to note that once a medicine’s patent has expired, the NHS can prescribe it at a fraction of the original price. This is a process that we welcome.

But without reasonable profits, the pharmaceutical industry would be unable to invest further in researching and developing new treatments. The ABPI remains committed to working with the Government and the NHS to ensure that patients can access the most innovative treatments when they need them.

Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, London SW1

What Keynes really said

Every day we read statements that the Government cannot spend money to get the economy going because we need to reduce the deficit. On the next page are stories about the billions in taxes that the big companies are evading.

Keynes said it was necessary for the government to spend money to recover from a depression, but he never said that money should be borrowed for the purpose. Rather, the Government should collect a surplus during the good times, which governments of both stripes have failed to do.

To create this surplus, taxation of the wealthy is essential, quite contrary to the neo-liberal thinking of recent years. In fact, in the decades after the Second World War, the money for recovery came from taxing the rich – income tax of 94 per cent in the US and 97.5 per cent in the UK. Can’t someone in politics join up the dots?

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

Not as prosperous as we like to think

Fiona Twycross’ concern (letters, 27 April) over the rise in the use of food banks is well founded, but her reliance on the UK’s position at 7th in the GDP rankings as a measure of our relative prosperity is not.

For far too long politicians of all persuasions have bamboozled us by concentrating on GDP per country and ignoring  GDP per head of population, which currently ranks the UK at 22nd in the world: still a relatively privileged position but a long way down from 7th.

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Victims of benefit cap

Scarcely a month after they came into effect benefit caps are already leading to an increase in eviction notices. Haringey’s social landlord Genesis is threatening to terminate the tenancies of some their clients who, because of benefit caps, “may not be able to afford the rent”.

This is not the fault of the Bulgarians. This is not the fault of Romanians. This is being done by the Etonians.

Sasha Simic, London N16

Join Canada in Colombo boycott

I concur with your leading article (1 May) that other countries should join Canada and boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, should the Rajapaksa regime not quickly mend its ways.

The so-called democracy in Sri Lanka has always been highly qualified at best for many Tamils, as well as Sinhalese opponents of the continuous assaults on free speech and human rights. It is therefore high time that Commonwealth members showed their disgust at the bad behaviour of the regime.

Dr Alan Bullion, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

On hold

Mary Dejevsky (“Get companies to answer the phone”, 1 May) would do well to try and contact the Jobcentre Plus or Tax Credit offices. She would then realise that half an hour listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is the norm rather than the exception. It would be interesting to know how much money is wasted (or made by the phone companies) because of the time callers are kept on hold.

John Peake, Bristol


Why shouldn’t I take the pensioner perks regardless of my personal wealth? I spent two years doing my National Service, suffering under the authority of mindless corporals and sergeants, starving on inedible food and wearing uncomfortable uniform. I served overseas keeping warring tribesmen apart. I was paid peanuts. I lost earnings and savings opportunities. As far as I am concerned it is payback time.

Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset

To boldly split

What has Eileen Noakes got against split infinitives (letter, 2 April)? The only reason I can think why some grammarians think split infinitives are wrong is because one cannot split an infinitive in Latin. The ability to split an infinitive in English gives greater flexibility and expressiveness.

Peter Calviou, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Beyond Norway

Alex Wilson claims (letter, 1 May) that if we left the EU we would ending up with “the political clout of Norway”.  Since when has Norway headed a Commonwealth of 54 nations spread across the world and including three members of the G20? And since when has Norwegian been the global lingua franca?

Michael Montgomery, Idbury, Oxfordshire