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Feature Tobacco

Tickets to Glyndebourne or the Oval? Big tobacco’s bid to woo parliamentarians

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 20 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2509
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist, Suffolk
  1. jgornall{at}

To what extent is the tobacco industry able to reach out and influence parliamentarians? Jonathan Gornall reports

On 27 February, 12 days before the Commons vote on standardised packaging for tobacco products, the industry made a final, direct appeal to all parliamentarians. In a subsequent Lords debate, Labour peer Lord Faulkner denounced as “disgraceful” a wraparound advert by Imperial Tobacco on the front and back covers of The House magazine.

The “monstrous” slogans that greeted readers of the magazine were “Plain packaging: Good for criminals Bad for business” and, on the back, “Plain packaging on top of a display ban is simply unnecessary.”

Several peers had written to the editor and publisher, said Faulkner, “protesting against this disgraceful use of . . . Parliament’s Magazine.”1

Disgraceful perhaps. But the advert was one of the more transparent methods adopted by the tobacco industry as it fought to sway parliamentarians against standardised packaging.

On 16 March, the Conservative peer Lord Naseby rose in the House of Lords to move an amendment designed to scupper the government’s plans.

The motion to approve the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 had just been presented by Earl Howe. The health minister told his fellow peers that tobacco use remained “one of our most significant public health challenges,” placing “an enormous strain on the NHS” and “a significant driver of heath inequalities.”

The government, he said, had looked carefully at the evidence and it showed that “introducing standardised packaging is highly likely to bring important public health benefits, primarily by reducing the appeal and attractiveness of tobacco packs, especially to children and young people, and improving the salience of health warnings on packets.”

The government knew that the industry was likely to challenge the regulation, but “we cannot let the vested interests of the …

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