Sunday, 20 October 2013

Smokefree Action Coalition Briefing – House of Commons 2013

Have you ever been in a car whilst an adult has smoked carelessly allowing the fumes to linger in the car or have any of your friends started smoking because it looks ‘cool’? It’s time for those things stop and there are many British organisations trying to achieve that goal.
In front of Big Ben
So, accompanied only by my wingman (so to say), I made the journey down to Westminster on October 15th for the Smokefree Action Coalition Briefing event where representatives from many different organisations and groups could mingle and confer about the work they've been doing. The aim of the event was to inform people about where the government currently stands with many matters regarding anti-smoking. From standardised cigarette packaging to smoking with children in cars the dozens of campaigners came out in force from organisations such as the British Lung Foundation, ASH, Fresh NE!

Early in 2013 I was promoting standardised packaging for cigarette packs in the UK via a video for Fresh NE. This sparked a speech that I made during March at a Fresh NE conference and I then wrote letters to members of parliament about where they stood regarding standardised packaging.
More information here: My fight for against Cigarettes (Smoking in Cars and Plain Packaging)

Anyway, after a swift wander around London we made our way to the historical and iconic parliament building which lingers in the shadow of the Elizabeth Tower. At airport like security in the entrance, the police had the guts to rummage through my bag; to their disappointment they didn't find anything apart from a can of Pepsi.

As I waited in a circular room directly between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, I allowed the extravagant, high ceiling, the polo white statues and the high class atmosphere soak in.

At approximately 4PM I was lead through a maze of corridors and staircases to a compact emerald room overflowing with people. After an anxious start to the event I was soon in flowing and intriguing conversations. The organisers of the event worked like match makers to try and get certain attendees to talk to certain other attendees, because nobody could talk to everyone so the organiser made sure you made the most of the 2 hours you had at the event.

This meant I was introduced to fascinating people who had travelled from all over England. They all had a different story to tell and different reasons for their campaign against the tobacco industry.

John McClurrey (independent newsagent from Gateshead and Liberal Democrat Councillor) was without a doubt one of the most intriguing people I met simply because of the results he had from the research he had conducted. He informed me that selling cigarettes isn't as profitable as you may assume, he went on to say that he actually makes more money from selling gum than he does with cigarettes!

One of the most interesting things I got given was a prototype of what the standardised plain packs could look like if the Government decided to implement them. Despite the pack being a vile shade of green and being littered in graphic health warnings there was a beauty to the packs that only few people will see. Many people, like me, will see the beauty because it is evidence that all the work they have done petitioning for standardised packaging might soon pay off.

Unfortunately, standardised packaging is a touchy issue which not everyone agrees with so many experts, over the course of the day, informed me that it is unlikely the current Government will implement them with only around 18 months left in power. That is the only logical reason anyone could think of – standardised packaging is actually quite practical: it is cheap, easy to implement and would require little enforcement.

Even if the government was freshly in power there would still be some very political aspects they would view the situation from. 5000 British people are employed directly by the tobacco industry and a further 80,000 jobs rely on the industry so if the government did implement standardised packaging, they would see thousands of people become unemployed. Also, it may surprise you that the Tobacco industry actually has a significant amount of influence in White Hall so they can pressure and manipulate MPs if something isn’t going their way. One thing is for sure, the poison producers are not to be underestimated, they will attempt to lie and cheat out of anything. They are too rich and too powerful.

The current official government line is that they are seeing how standardised packaging goes down in Australia and if it is beneficial they will seriously consider introducing it to Britain.

Hopefully though, politicians will have the courage to look at the key statistics regarding health: Smoking remains the major cause of preventable premature death killing 100,000 people a year, more than the next six causes put together including alcohol, obesity and illegal drugs! 567 children start smoking every day in the UK which is approximately 207,000 a year. In research conducted by the British Heart Foundation, 87% of 2700 surveyed 16-25 years olds found plain packs less attractive and 77% of them believed that people to smoke less or quit.

As a teenager who sees people my age smoking, I’ve noticed that the glamour of it has a lot to do with why some of my friends started the disgusting habit. The attractive, colourful and shiny packing attracts people of all ages, especially children. The tobacco industry deny aiming packaging at young people, they've even went so far to say that they don’t care about packaging at all, yet they still spend millions on getting a perfect design and shape for them.
I watched a video made by Cancer Research UK on the train journey to London on October 15th and it showed primary school children speaking about what they thought of cigarette packaging. The video was unscripted and some of the things they said were astonishing:
“It has a funky design”
“Looks quite posh”
“Bright colours and looks quite fun to play with, makes you feel almost happy by looking at it”
“The pictures look quite nice; ice cubes and mint”

Overall, the event and day as a whole were brilliant. I got the opportunity to express my views on standardised packaging in front of some very important people from around Britain who are campaigning for the same things, plus not many people my age get invited to such events like this especially in places such as the House of Commons so I feel extremely privileged to have even been invited.