Campaigners have responded to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) that calls for plain packaging on sweets, crisps and high-sugar drinks in order to tackle obesity.
In its latest publication, Ending the blame game: The case for a new approach to public health and prevention, the organisation said that introducing such measures “would level the playing field between confectionery products and fruit and vegetables, which do not benefit from the same level of branding and product recognition”.
It said that this would mirror the action taken against smoking, without reducing the availability of confectionery.
“Plain packaging would help us all to make better choices and reduce the hassle of pester power for busy parents,” said IPPR director Tom Kibasi.
But campaigners against plain packaging have called out the report’s recommendations.
Mike Ridgway, director of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance, said: “The report doesn’t say anything about the role of the parent: where does parental guidance occur in all this? That’s a very important part of starting to educate children, but it was completely missing.
“The other aspect is about education generally; the IPPR should be lobbying the government about making sure that the education programme in schools covers this.
“There’s a whole lifestyle regime that needs to be looked at: exercise, school activities and sports, as well as dietary control.
“They want to extend packaging regulations on consumer products disproportionately against the requirement to educate people in a balanced way.”
Maria Chaplia, media associate at the Consumer Choice Center, also voiced her concerns over the report. She said that nannying consumers by taking the responsibility for food choices off their shoulders is “a curse in disguise”.
“There is no one who denies the importance of addressing obesity. Yet there is a huge disagreement on how to solve the issue.
“The options on the table are either to limit consumer choice by proceeding with plain packaging, taxes, and other bans, or to encourage responsible parenting and physical activity without trumping on anyone’s choices. The latter is the preferred way forward.”
She added: “Plain packaging of tobacco products is driven by similar public health considerations. However, regardless of the equally noble motives in place, its failures are numerous and evident.
“The British obesity problem is rooted in the lack of physical activity, not in consumption preferences. According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24% since the 1960s.
“By pushing forward the plain packaging of foods, its proponents are simply shooting in the wrong direction.”
She concluded that “the most unacceptable part” of the IPPR’s plain packaging scheme is that it stems from the assumption that it knows what choices are better for individuals.
“Though framed to be in the public interest, this is highly pretentious. Not only does this belief undermine the ability of consumers to decide for themselves, but it also blocks their access to the information about the products they buy and consume.
“Information is dispersed through branding. Plain packaging is aimed to make our life plain of choices.”