The government has finally decided to bring in plain packaging laws for cigarettes. This U-turn is a sort of U-turn because MPs will get a free vote on it, after David Cameron recognised the depth of feeling in his party on the issue, so the government has decided to bring in plain packaging, but in as gentle a way as possible. In fact, it is a rotation through 360 degrees, as the original position had been in favour of plain packaging, which was then reversed in 2013.
There will be a sizeable chunk of Conservative MPs who oppose the measure, which public health minister Jane Ellison says is a ‘proportionate and justified response’ to the health risks of smoking.
The Conservatives have wobbled over this issue while the government examined the evidence on whether plain packaging actually stops people – especially young people – taking up smoking. There were also repeated insinuations that Lynton Crosby had lobbied ministers not to introduce this policy because he worked for tobacco firm Philip Morris International – something the strategist has flatly denied. Now that the government is going for the measure after all, this is irrelevant. Labour says the delay is ‘inexcusable’. It certainly couldn’t be delayed any longer for political reasons: a row about cigarettes is one thing the Tories could do without when they’re supposed to be gabbling on non-stop about the economy.