Thursday, 6 June 2019

Sugary slope

Earlier this week, the Institute for Public Policy Research published a report proposing that, to combat obesity, the plain packaging currently required for tobacco should be extended to crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks. There’s little comment I can make that hasn’t already been said: it is filleted here with his usual aplomb by Christopher Snowdon. Realistically, it isn’t going to happen this year or next, but the idea is now well and truly within the “Overton window” of the acceptable range of public debate.

It underlines all too clearly that the claims that the draconian regulation of tobacco was a special case that would never be extended to other areas were patently false. It is perhaps a little surprising that snacks and soft drinks are ahead of alcohol in the queue, but that will come in time as surely as night follows day.

Presumably this would have to be accompanied by a comprehensive ban on advertising and promotion. This would have the effect of ossifying the market and preventing any innovation or new product introductions. People’s choice of product would depend on word of mouth and folk memory, as it does now with tobacco products. It would be completely impossible now to introduce a new legal cigarette brand. This would effectively leave the market in the hands of large, established players.

The point of plain packaging for tobacco was supposedly to “denormalise” its consumption. But if a whole raft of other food and drink products are also put in plain packaging, that effect largly disappears, as plain packaging becomes the norm for anything remotely enjoyable. They don’t seem to have thought that one through.

13 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie6 June 2019 at 13:34

    Since they stopped reusing newspaper my large kebab and chips have been in plain packaging but that has not deterred me from buying them on my way home from the pub.

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  2. The difference is that Big Tobacco can't fight back - they have few friends and influence in politics and government and few connections with other businesses. Big Sugar is in a similar situation. The current attitude to the drinks business in the UK is currently being tolerated but a serious threat to the considerable and hugely valuable interests of the multinational conglomerates and supermarkets that produce and sell huge amounts of products that would be badly hit by plain packaging, would have them wheeling the big guns out.

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    1. The food industry is much the same, of course. But the role of business is to make a profit, not make a stand, so in practice they just endlessly appease rather than actually defending their long-term interests. The alcohol industry did nothing against the arm-twisting to reduce the strength of many popular beers and ciders.

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    2. As duties on alcohol are related to its strength alcohol producers can benefit from reducing strength if,as is usual,the wholesale/retail price is not reduced,there is therefore no incentive to resist such pressure

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  3. Although my politics are well to the left of Snowden's I do find his evidence based approach to public health is extremely refreshing and illuminating

    The list of food that are classified of "junk" and thus cannot be advertised before the watershed is huge and includes many things that most of us would think healthy: cheese (including half-fat cheese), raisins, sultanas, soy sauce, mustard, most tinned fruit, most yoghurts, most breakfast cereals (including high fibre varieties), peanut butter, Marmite, mayonnaise (light and regular), tomato soup, most cereal bars, many pasta sauces, all butter, fat spreads and olive oil.

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    1. It's significant, though, that nobody from the political Left is doing this kind of analysis - it's more a case of trying to protect the vulnerable from the malign influence of Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol and Big Sugar. Another example of how out-of-touch they have become from ordinary people.

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    2. Hard to argue with that,'mudge. I am extremely disappointed with the way the party, especially Tom Watson, have jumped on this public health bandwaggon.
      So much so that i have resigned my membership so thaI i can vote for more progressive partys

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    3. I think you'll find both the LibDems and Greens are just as keen on lifestyle regulation, if not more so. Tbh it's not really a party political issue, as all of this stuff over the past nine years has happened under a Conservative-led government.

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    4. If there's a bandwagon, Watson will jump on it.

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  4. I think you make a very good point that the denormalising effect of plain pckaging disappears as more products are added. I thought of this with regard to proposals to lower the breathalyser limit to the extent that you could fail driving to B&Q on a Sunday morning after a few glasses of wine the night before. It would be viewed as just another random tax.

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  5. Surprising that the UK cigarette labelling isn't similar to some other countries with pictures of diseased organs.

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  6. It is, there hidden behind a shutter, come in plain packs but with the horror show pictures.

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