Beggs calls on Health Minister to reaffirm commitment to plain packaging of tobacco products

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Health Spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, has called on Health Minister Edwin Poots to explain why his Party’s policy on plain packaging for tobacco products has changed. The East Antrim MLA made his comments after the DUP MPA, Ian Paisley Jnr, publically spoke out against the proposals.
Roy Beggs said;
“Last year the Ulster Unionist Party submitted a very favourable response to the consultation brought forward by the Department of Health in Westminster. This consultation exercise sought views on the proposal to require cigarette packs and other tobacco packaging to conform to a standardised format. If these proposals were to come into force then key branding features such as colours and font styles would be tightly regulated with a strict degree of conformity across brands.’
“In Northern Ireland approximately 1 in 4 people smoke, but consistent surveys and research reveals most people would like to stop were it not for the addictive feature of tobacco. Indeed the current Tobacco Control Strategy for Northern Ireland sets a prevalence target of 15% for 2020 and we therefore believe it is crucial to stop young people falling into the habit and sustaining it.’
“Indeed only last April Edwin Poots also strongly supported the proposals when he stated that he ‘fully supported the concept of plain packaging’ and that it had the potential to ‘further help prevent young people from starting to smoke and support current smokers to quit.’
“I do not accept Ian Paisley Jnr’s comments that standardised packaging would lead to increased smuggling or counterfeiting which would then lead to job losses in the North Antrim area. That is a lazy argument being promoted by the tobacco industry as it completely ignores the sophistication of current counterfeiting practices as well as the fact that existing branded tobacco products are quite capable of being forged.’
“It is clear that if plain packaging was to be introduced it would have a positive impact. It is an issue which has got widespread public support as a recent survey carried out by the respected polling firm, YouGov, found that 64% of adults in Northern Ireland supported plain packaging while just 11% opposed the measure.’
“Edwin Poots needs to explain whether his position has now changed and if it has, is he now ruling out plain packaging in Northern Ireland? Does he agree with the position taken by his own Department and backed up with a swathe of evidence or will he now be falling in behind the position of his DUP colleague who believes it is more important to prop up the tobacco industry, rather than help reduce the number of people taking up the habit in the first place.”

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