Time Running Out for Standardised Cigarette Packs: Health Community Presses Cameron & Hunt to Promise Parliament Will Vote on Issue Before General Election

Saturday 27 December 2014

Following mounting pressure for the Government to commit to introducing standardised tobacco packaging, ASH is calling on the Prime Minister and Health Secretary to stand up to the tobacco industry by ensuring there is time for a final vote on the regulations to take place before the General Election. [1] A full ASH Media Briefing on the issue is available here.

According to a report in The Observer (28th December), [2] nearly 4,000 doctors and other health professionals have signed a letter published in the British Medical Journal health challenging Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to promise that Parliament will get the chance to vote on Regulations introducing standardised packaging before the General Election. [3] Meanwhile MPs and peers are concerned at possible moves inside Government to delay the Regulations so that they run out of Parliamentary time. Paul Burstow MP, Chair of the All Party Group on Smoking and Health, has written to the Health Secretary pointing out that standardised packaging has overwhelming support in both Houses of Parliament. [4] In the letter to the BMJ, the doctors insist that the notification of the draft regulations to the European Union should not be used as an excuse for delay and that the matter is now one of political will.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said:

“Standardised packaging will help stop the next generation from starting to smoke. Two in three smokers start before they are adults, and one in two lifetime smokers will die from smoking-related disease. So this is a vitally important public health reform, and it has overwhelming support from the public and MPs. It will be a disaster if the Regulations run out of time in this Parliament, and it will be the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister and Health Secretary.


Notes and Links:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: www.ash.org.uk/about-ash
ASH receives funding from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

[1] The process of notification to the EU of the draft regulations runs out on 2nd March 2015. In the meantime the following steps must be completed:
a. Consideration of the Impact Assessment on the Regulations, by the Regulatory Policy Committee. [1] The Committee expects to report to the Department of Health by Wednesday 24th December
b. Parliamentary recess from 18th December to 5th January (Commons)
c. Cabinet decision on Regulations through Home Affairs Cabinet Committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg MP). The write round for Cabinet clearance via correspondence must start by Wednesday 14th January, as the process lasts at least six working days.[2]
d. Home Affairs Cabinet Committee decision, by Wednesday 21st January
e. Regulations MUST be laid in Parliament by Friday 23rd January
f. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments must receive Regulations by Monday 26th January, for consideration on Wednesday 4th February
g. Regulations must be considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC), which meets on a Tuesday. This usually happens two to three weeks after Regulations are laid, so most likely on Tuesday 10th February
h. Parliamentary recess from 12th February to 23rd February
i. Latest date for SLSC to publish its report: Thursday 26th February
j. Monday 2nd March: end of EU notification period
k. Tuesday 3rd March: first date for Parliamentary vote
l. Thursday 26th March: last sitting day of this Parliament.

[2] The Observer, 28 December 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/27/doctors-ministers-delays-plain-cigarette-packaging
[3] Hopkinson, N. et al. Standardised (“plain”) packaging of cigarette regulations must be passed before the General Election. Letter. BMJ 2014;349:g7751
[4] The power to make Regulations requiring the standardised packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products was included in a late amendment to the Children and Families Act 2014 (now Section 94 of the Act) after a strong cross Party campaign in both Houses of Parliament. The amendment was passed with only 24 votes against in the Commons and nem con in the Lords.