MPs vote to introduce standardised cigarette packaging

Plain packaging for tobacco in the UK is one step closer after MPs voted to introduce it. In a free vote, 367 MPs backed the measure, with 113 against. It will now go before the House of Lords and, if approved, every packet of cigarettes will have to look the same from 20 May 2016. Packaging will feature the manufacturers name and brand name in a standard font, and graphic photographs will have to appear on the front of every packet. Health warnings that encourage smokers to quit will also increase in size, to cover 65 per cent of the available space. The government has been considering the introduction of standardised packaging since 2011 and held a consultation the following year. A review of the public health benefits concluded that the measure would help to reduce the number of smokers and slow uptake, while other research demonstrated that plain packaging makes tobacco products less appealing and highlights health warnings. The Republic of Ireland and Australia already have standardised packaging. Australia, which introduced the measure in 2012, has recorded reductions in smoking as a result. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: The government and MPs from all parties are to be congratulated for resisting the bully-boy tactics and misinformation of the tobacco industry, and for implementing the most important public health reform of this parliament.

Trading standards receives extra funding to tackle dangerous goods

Jo Swinson, Minister for Consumer Affairs, has announced that the government is making an extra 400,000 available to support the work of trading standards. The money is intended to help the service prevent dangerous goods from being sold in the UK. It will be allocated by the National Trading Standards Board, and includes 182,000 for its ports and borders project to improve surveillance at Southampton and Felixstowe. Lord Toby Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, said: I am particularly pleased that the Safety at Ports and Borders teams, which face growing challenges in terms of preventing potentially dangerous products coming into the UK, will now be able to put extra resource into intercepting these items before they can do consumers any harm. Enforcement work at ports has had some notable recent successes, including the interception of more than 68,000 non-compliant consumer products.

Legal change helps in fight against nuisance callers

The UK government has made it easier to hit companies that make unwanted marketing calls and texts with fines of up to 500,000. Consumers plagued by nuisance calls and texts can now benefit from changes to legislation, which make it easier to target the firms responsible. Previously, the law required the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to prove a company caused substantial damage or substantial distress with their conduct before action could be taken. After a six-week public consultation, the government has removed this legal threshold, giving the ICO the power to intervene in more cases. The change will come into effect on 6 April 2015. The government confirmed that it will also look at introducing measures to hold board-level executives responsible for nuisance calls and texts. This follows a report, from a Which?-led taskforce, last December calling for a review of the rules to create a stronger deterrent to rogue companies. Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: For far too long, companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm. This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioners Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on. Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, who chaired the Nuisance Calls Task Force, said: We welcome the government making good on its promise to change the law so its easier to prosecute nuisance callers. These calls are an everyday menace, blighting the lives of millions, so we want the regulator to send a clear message by using its new powers to full effect without delay. Its also good news that the government has listened to our call and is looking into how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes nuisance calls.

Ofgem slaps sales ban on Scottish

Power ScottishPower stopped proactive selling for 12 days in March after energy regulator Ofgem found thatthe supplier had failed to meet a backlog of outstanding Energy Ombudsman targets. Ofgem launched an investigation into ScottishPowers treatment of customers last November and discovered they were experiencing long call-waiting times, and receiving late bills. ScottishPower agreed to meet three Ofgem targets to improve customer service within three months, or face a ban on proactive sales. The company was to reduce the average speed of answer, while not increasing abandoned call rates, and to publish data about calls online. However, it failed to meet these targets by 31 November 2014, resulting in a 12-day suspension from 4 March. Where ScottishPowers IT systems only allow a partial implementation of the ombudsmans proposed remedies, the firm is providing affected customers with free energy and writing-off past debt. ScottishPower has assured Ofgem that these requirements will remain in force for any case where the company can only partially implement the ombudsmans decisions. More than 2,000 customers are currently receiving free energy.