Plain packaging, winter deaths and Jeremy Paxman

I woke this morning to the good news that the government is to launch an independent review of cigarette packaging amid ‘amid continuing calls for action to discourage young smokers’. Sir Cyril Chantler, Chair of University College London Partners, has been asked to look at the evidence and report by March 2014. Although Nick Triggle reports that ‘A recent study carried out in the state of Victoria found not only did it make smokers more likely to think about quitting, it also worked subconsciously – smokers felt the cigarettes were of poorer quality‘, there won’t be much more evidence to find specifically on cigarette plain packaging. 2020Health hosts a debate at University College London on 'Plain, standardised packaging of cigarettes: triumph of tyranny' followed by a drinks reception, 29th April 2013

Where there is a mountain of evidence is on the impact of packaging per se: Packaging trumps quality and price in consumer preferences and the strength of evidence for the importance of branding is overwhelming. The other aspect this review should cover is the increased targeting of young people – this should be criminal if it isn’t already. To deliberately set out to entice a child into an addiction is totally immoral. We hosted a debate on the subject at UCL with Cancer Research UK earlier in the year – with Kevin Barron MP making the memorable point that if branding and packaging didn’t matter so much, companies would not be fighting tooth and nail to keep things as they are.

It was slightly surprising to see Paul Lewis (of Money Box) commenting on the rise in winter deaths last year on BBC TV this morning, but he was making the point about insulating older homes. Unfortunately for both older people and party politicians, there is a direct correlation between the winter temperature and the number of ‘excess’ deaths – much is out of our control. However Paul also pointed out that 70% of older people own their homes, and it is perfectly possible to release funds from this equity to ensure you can heat your home properly. It did often surprise me when I visited housebound patients how many wanted to stay in their large, cold house – but also how many longed to be able to move to somewhere smaller and and with company, yet nothing was available. There is a market opportunity here surely?

What good does coca-cola do you? Jeremy Paxman had some fun shaking out 44 packets of sugar from a large coke cup in front of James Quincy, President of Coca-cola Europe on Newsnight. Jeremy will have known that there is no nutritional value to sugar – which is why 2020health are interested in traffic light labeling being wellsthumb-1based on nutrition. 44 packets is at least 88 grams of sugar (could be up to 176g) with the maximum recommended allowance being 40g – but of course it’s not needed in our diet. Added to this it can impair uptake of vitamin C and the functioning of the immune system. We found in our work with families shopping at Sainsburys that public ignorance of nutrition was very poor.

We think that while NHS Choices still has cake and cola on it’s healthy eating plate, we have a long way to go.


About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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