I published a summary of these documents at the time, but the discredited pricing is only one part of the jigsaw. MPs and peers were also misled about the popularity and effectiveness of this controversial legislation.
I have now written up a full history of the campaign to ban tobacco displays in England. This includes the Dark Market e-mails alongside evidence showing how the public consultation was weighted towards groups funded by the Department of Health. It also shows how ASH claimed that the legislation would reduce underage smoking despite the empirical international evidence suggesting nothing of the sort. Finally, it details how false and misleading statements continue to obscure the truth about the cost and efficacy of tobacco display bans.
This is the Dark Market Redux...
In October 2009, the House of Commons voted to ban the display of tobacco products in shops. This report reveals how MPs and peers were repeatedly misled about the cost, popularity and efficacy of this legislation.
E-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show how Action on Smoking Health (ASH), Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health (DH) briefed MPs and peers with unrealistically low estimates of the cost to retailers and continued to do so even after their own source made them aware of their error.
The government now accepts that the cost of complying with the law will be ten to forty times greater than the estimate given to MPs and peers at the time of the vote.
The Department of Health’s consultation paper was dominated by groups funded by the DH. The DH did not acknowledge the participation of groups like the Tobacco Retailers Alliance until the press accused Ministers of “cultivating a fake grassroots movement in order to make a position appear more popular than it really is.” (‘Government “fixing health consultations” with taxpayer-funded groups’, The Telegraph, 02.01.09).
ASH and the DH briefed ministers with incorrect figures purporting to show a dramatic decline in youth smoking in countries which had implemented display bans. Although ASH later blamed a “technical error” for these false figures, misleading statistics continued to be cited in the press and in Parliament. To this day, there is no credible evidence that display bans reduce youth smoking.
Crucial information was denied MPs at the time of the vote. The draft regulations were not available in the House of Commons library and were not sent by e-mail prior to the debate, contrary to claims made by the minister during the debate.
MPs and peers were unaware of the economic damage the legislation would do to small retailers and newsagents in addition to the cost of compliance.
The campaign of misinformation surrounding the tobacco display ban raises serious questions about the validity of the ‘government lobbying the government’ to achieve predetermined objectives. It illustrates the power of unelected bureaucrats and state-funded pressure groups to influence the democratic process.
Download the full PDF here
(This dossier was presented at a committee meeting of the House of Commons on 20.07.10)