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MPs unanimous on cigarette branding ban but stop short at extending to junk food

Representatives from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties attending the Advertising Association’s Lead conference yesterday (29 January) were unanimous in support of a ban to branding on cigarette packs.

Ahead of the official vote to enforce the ban, scheduled for May 2016, Maria Miller, Conservative MP and former Culture Secretary of State, revealed she was in favour of plain packaging believing it will help change the way people use those products.

Similarly, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Chris Bryant said one of the most important votes he has made in parliament was for the ban of smoking in public places.

“It was contentious at the time but it’s interesting how that’s changed public perceptions. I think we should do the same with plain packaging,” he said.

Liberal Democrat MP and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons Tom Brake was also in agreement saying the health benefits from such a ban “are quite clear”.

The three also weighed in on calls from health groups for a ban to junk food advertising. The British Heart Foundation is leading a campaign to relegate junk food advertising to after the 9pm TV Watershed.

Brake, however, would not be in favour of extending the same sort of branding ban to high fat and sugar foods, but said there is a responsibility on the industry to respond to the issues it raises.

Miller added that rather than a ban on junk food marketing – “we can’t blame it all on the advertising industry” – parents need to be supported in educating children about food choices.

Despite fellow Labour MP, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, previously saying he would look to block the marketing of unhealthy foods on programmes that could be seen by children, Bryan refused to be drawn deeply into the issue.

“When it comes to sugar, I don’t want to legislate. But I do want to tackle the problem. I’m pleased with the work of the Advertising Association […] but of course you know there’s a degree of responsibility that has to be taken,” he said.

Some in the design industry have been sceptical of the ban. Spencer Buck, founder and creative director of Taxi Studio, believes it won’t solve the problem of smoking; instead it will “just present the industry with new creative challenges”.

“The plain packs in my view will simply force an evolution of an industry into new innovations,” he argued. “My first reaction to the news last night was ‘Marlboro will just start creating really desirable cigarette holding packs and give them away, or even better, sell them’.”

He suggested that by putting the ban to a vote, the government was simply “paying lip service to public health issues”.

“If they really meant it, they’d ban the sale of cigarettes altogether. Which they won’t because the industry makes the government a lot of money.”

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