The Government has been accused of fixing the outcome of public consultations on health policy after it emerged that reviews were flooded with block votes from groups funded entirely by the taxpayer.
Earlier this month the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced that the display of cigarettes and tobacco in shops would be banned in England and Wales from 2011.
He added that people wanting to buy cigarettes from vending machines would in future have to show proof of age to obtain a token to activate the machine, and machines could be banned altogether in the future.
Mr Johnson boasted that the display ban was favoured by an "overwhelming majority" of 96,000 responses to a six-month public consultation on the subject.
Yet only a handful of those 96,000 respondents came from individuals submitting their personal views. Almost 70,000 came from those collected by pressure groups entirely funded by the Department for Health.
The Government also published responses to a consultation on alcohol consumption earlier this month, in advance of a Policing and Crime Bill currently passing through Parliament, which proposes giving the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, sweeping powers to control licensing in pubs and clubs.
The consultation attracted 2,336 responses. Almost 2,000 of these came either from a survey by Alcohol Concern, a charity which last year was given almost £400,000 by the Department for Health and raised nothing through fundraising, or postcards distributed by the Department itself, which posed the question:"Fed up with alcohol problems where you live?"
In a report on the Future of Tobacco Control consultation published on Tuesday 9th December 2008, the Department of Health appears to have deliberately omitted evidence offered by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance.
Ken Patel, Leicester retailer and National Spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, said: "First the Minister refused to meet with retailers, now they have censored our formal response to a public consultation."
'Tis true. The Tobacco Retailers Alliance - a coalition of shopkeepers funded by the tobacco industry (yes I know, boo, hiss etc.) - is not even mentioned in the consultation document despite their having spent a year gathering together its response. And as much as the DoH are a bunch of illiberal quack bastards, surely they would not stoop so low as to ignore the views of the thousands of shopkeepers who would be most adversely affected by this spastic piece of legislation?
Campaign Manager Katherine Graham said; "We are not listed as one of the respondents although our response was submitted by email and also sent by post, so we can be certain it was received. For some reason the views of 25,000 shopkeepers just seem to have been air-brushed out of the consultation report."
Evidence offered by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance which was suppressed in the report includes:
Evidence that a display ban would disproportionately hit smaller shops
An econometric study which found that 2,600 UK shops would cease to be profitable if forced to operate in these conditions
Evidence that a display ban could double transaction times in shops, halving retail efficiency
Fears for shop security and staff safety as retailers have to take their eyes off the shop when retrieving tobacco products
A study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research found that 2,600 shops would cease to be profitable, causing a potential loss of 8,000 jobs, if shops were forced to hide tobacco products out of sight.
We are particularly interested in hearing from small retailers and in receiving information on the potential cost impact of further restrictions on display