Margaret Thatcher will be u-turning in her grave after the government announced plans to adopt a u-u-turn over plain pack legislation last week. It was at best an astonishingly cynical piece of politicking, 18 months out from the next general election, to announce another volte face. At worst, it looks incredibly weak. Either way it exposes the prime minister’s poor judgement when it comes to selecting advisers.

“Why is the government wasting its time on a potentially embarrassing u-u-u-turn?”

Adam Leyland, Editor

But it also looks like another case of overkill. If, as seems inevitable, the paediatrician who’s been asked to head the inquiry chooses to recommend the introduction of plain packs (an outcome only slightly less likely than if the DH had asked the Chinese mafia to head it up), plain packs will be on shelf as early as 2015 - the same year the second phase of the display ban comes into force. What’s more, the EU’s controversial tobacco directive - described by one tobacco industry exec recently as ‘plain packaging by the back door’ - is likely to come in the same year, too.

Even if it had the evidence from Australia to support its position (which it does not), why is the government wasting its time on expensive, time consuming and potentially embarrassing policy changes (resulting in a u-u-u turn), when the legislative framework is already there, at both government and EU level, to turn the screw?

The question now is whether the PM will adopt another u-u-turn, this time on minimum unit alcohol pricing. With health lobby groups and local authorities attempting to work round the u-turn, and Labour in support of MUP, who’s to say pressure could not be exerted to split the government again on this issue?

The onus must be on the industry not only to point out the considerable holes in the Sheffield research, but also to respond to the government’s call for greater voluntary action. This was supposed to have happened in the autumn, with the Portman Group having agreed to draw up new measures on high-strength drinks, restrictions on promotions in-store, funding for education and other locally targeted measures. But nothing has happened since and it leaves the impression of complacency - not helped of course when the beer industry itself gets done by the ASA for breaching its code.