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Simon Clark: The tobacco industry has every right and every reason to lobby government

Picture 1 Simon Clark is director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest and organiser of the Voices of Freedom programme of events that begins in London on June 3. He is also author of the Taking Liberties blog.

Shock, horror, dismay, outrage.

According to a new report, The Smoke Filled Room: How Big Tobacco Influences Health Policy in the UK, published by Action on Smoking and Health today (World No Tobacco Day), tobacco companies have been trying to lobby the government – for years. Unbelievable!

I demand immediate legislation so that tobacco companies and all their directors, employees, contractors and shareholders, past and present, are forced to shut up shop, board as many 747s as are needed to fit them all in, fly directly into the heart of that large plume of volcanic ash billowing south from Iceland, and never be heard from again.

Perhaps, if my indignation subsides, we could permit an amnesty for those who submit to a restraining order so that they never again come within 500 yards of any politician or civil servant.

But that might not be enough.

The word from ASH is that the tobacco industry has been manipulating tens of thousands of tobacco retailers and wholesalers around the country into lobbying to protect their piece of the legal tobacco trade.

Those stupid businessmen and women are potentially even more vulnerable to the wily tobacco companies than our easily influenced politicians. They must be protected. We can’t be too careful. The only way to be sure is to make our amnesty for the tobacco lobby conditional upon a vow of absolute and eternal silence.

Never mind all those democratic quacks who think that tobacco companies, tobacco retailers and smokers have a right to be represented in the political process.

Never mind that without a legal tobacco industry tens of thousands of shops would go to the wall, £11 billion of government revenue would be lost, and the UK’s 12 million smokers would be sent searching for cigarettes on the black market. (They wouldn’t have to look too hard because it’s already booming.).

Never mind that a multi-billion pound industry would be handed over to gangs of violent criminals. (At least they wouldn’t try to lobby the government.)

Never mind either that the UK has spent years racing after the Republic of Ireland's position as the most heavily taxed and regulated tobacco market in the EU.

Ireland: the first EU country to outlaw shelter for smokers in public places; and the first to ban tobacco displays in shops, essentially turning the purchase of tobacco products into a game of hide and seek. In a uniquely daft move the Irish government has also forced moderate smokers to buy more tobacco than they want by banning packs of less than 20 cigarettes. Even the gimmick-addicted Labour Government shied away from that one, although it had planned to force UK retailers to hide tobacco products from their customers.

But whatever your views about the tobacco industry and groups such as Forest, it is clear that the tax and ban tobacco policies advocated by ASH and inhaled most deeply by the Irish government have failed spectacularly.

According to a new report from the European Commission, smoking prevalence in Ireland has risen by two percentage points (a seven per cent increase) in the past three years.

What’s more Irish smokers are already giving up on the legal market and have, so far, gifted about 25 per cent of the trade to smugglers.

The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If it has not yet occurred to the prohibitionists at ASH that a different, less authoritarian, approach might bring them closer to their goal of a smoke free United Kingdom, perhaps we should pack them on to those 747s alongside the tobacco lobby.

As we jet off into the Icelandic smoke, the cheers of thousands of black marketeers ringing in our ears, I'll be happy to tell them where they went wrong.


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