Hands Off Our Packs

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Hands Off Our Packs (HOOPs) was a now defunct campaign run by the industry-funded smokers’ rights group Forest in opposition to proposed plain packaging laws in the UK.1 Forest describes itself as a media and political lobbying group working to protect the interests of those who smoke and consume tobacco.23 On the Forest website, under the title ‘How Forest Works’, Simon Clark, Director of Forest, talks about how the organisation lobbies:

“We do that lobbying by communicating with politicians and the media on a variety of tobacco-related issues including public smoking bans, tobacco displays and vending machines, tobacco duty, cross-border shopping and plain packaging.”3


During the height of its campaign, the HOOPs campaign had a dedicated website, a Twitter account,4 and a Facebook account. However, the website domain expired in September 2016 and the website is now defunct.
Whilst it was active, HOOPs produced anti-plain packaging literature, YouTube ads and provided guidance on how to respond to the consultation in support of the continued branding of tobacco products.5 The website included a petition to sign up to in opposition of plain packaging. Visitors to the website were also encouraged to distribute leaflets and promote the campaign online via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs.5

A Proactive or Reactive Campaign?

Forest launched the HOOPs campaign in early 2012 to “give opponents of plain packaging of tobacco a chance to have their say”. Upon its launch the campaign aim was to “give consumers an opportunity to petition the government when it begins a public consultation on the issue in the spring”.1 The campaign is still active and is “run and managed” by Forest which is “supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies)”.1
The petition, said Forest, was conceived in response to Plain Packs Protect, a campaign launched in January 2012 by an alliance of tobacco control groups including Smokefree South West, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the British Heart Foundation.1
Speaking to the Grocer Magazine, Simon Clark from Forest also stated that the HOOPs campaign “was a response to a campaign launched last month by an alliance of anti-tobacco groups”. 6
However, Clark registered the handsoffourpacks.com website back in September 2011, 7 showing that Forest had been preparing to run a campaign for some time before the Plain Packs Protect campaign was launched in January 2012.

Staff and Funding

The HOOPs campaign was initially run by Angela Harbutt, and until May 2012, Amul Pandya.8 Angela Harbutt is the head of Liberal Vision, which “exists to promote individual liberty, a free economy and limited government.”9 In May 2012, the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath asked Liberal Vision whether it was currently receiving tobacco industry funding, or had received funding in the past. The group received no reply. 10
In 2013, BAT acknowledged it had granted funding support to Forest for the Hands Off Our Packs campaign.11


The campaign and petition were supported by:112

Consultation Submission

In response to the first UK public consultation on plain packaging in 2012, the HOOPs campaign submitted a petition of 235,000 signatures against placing cigarettes in plain packaging.

Falsifying Signatures

In September 2012, the Department for Health (DoH) made a number of its documents public following a Freedom of Information request.15
Amongst the documents are several letters written to Simon Clark. On the 14th June 2012 the DoH’s Tobacco Programme Manager wrote to inform Clark of an instance whereby the manager personally saw a member of the HOOPS campaign staff falsifying a page of signatures in the street. A follow up letter was sent on the 20th June 2012 asking Clark to comment on the methods HOOPS employed to gather signatures and how Forest was “verifying that the petition only includes the names and addresses of actual people, who have signed the petition of their own accord?”

Using Questionable Methods to Acquire Signatures

This second letter was written following a complaint from the Chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ Tobacco Advisory Group. The Chair described how he had been told by his students at the University of Nottingham that friends of theirs at the University were being paid by HOOPs to gather signatures for the petition.
On the 16th July an email (compared to the earlier written correspondence) was sent to Clark by the DoH’s Tobacco Programme Manager in response to a question Clark had directed at then Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley. The manager asked Clark whether he had received the two letters and mentioned new complaints received by the DoH about the HOOPs campaign. The three further complaints referred to were once again concerned with the methods used to gather signatures, with members of the public voicing concerns that HOOPs campaigners were:

  1. targeting parents in playgrounds telling them that plain packs would be completely plain with no health warnings;
  2. gathering signatures in loud nightclubs;
  3. targeting adolescents in the street telling them that the government was trying to ban cigarettes altogether.

All of the documents discussed can be viewed on the DoH website.15

Say NO to Plain Packs

In February 2013, Simon Clark advertised a new campaigning website on his blog Taking Liberties called Say No to Plain Packs. On their campaign website, HOOPs stated:

“Hands Off Our Packs, the campaign set up and run by the smokers’ group Forest, has launched a new website that it hopes will encourage thousands of people to tell their local MP about their opposition to plain packaging of tobacco.”16

After entering their name and address, a pre-composed email can to be sent to MPs “At a click of a button…”16 The HOOPs news release gives information on what is included in the email template. The arguments echo the same arguments made previously by the tobacco industry and its allies:

  • Plain packaging “was not included in any election manifesto in 2010 and was rejected by the previous government in 2008 on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support such a policy. Nothing has happened since then that could possibly justify a change of policy under the current government.”
  • “Police officers, retired and serving, have expressed concern that plain packaging will encourage organised crime. Their views are shared by many small retailers, wholesalers, packaging companies and design agencies who may be forced to cut jobs if plain packaging is introduced.”
  • “There is no credible evidence that packaging encourages children to start smoking and to argue otherwise is to fly in the face of common sense.”

This can be viewed as little more than an extended petition at a time where the plain packaging campaign was entering a crucial phase.

No Thank EU

On 29 July 2013,on behalf of Forest, HOOPS campaign manager Angela Harbutt launched a new campaign, No Thank EU, against the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision.17

No, Prime Minister

In May 2014, after the release of the Chantler Report revealed it is “highly likely” that standardised (plain) packaging would help decrease the incidence of smoking in children, Forest’s director Simon Clark launched a follow up campaign called No, Prime Minister. This campaign went a step further than Say NO to Plain Packs, which allowed individuals to send a standardised letter against plain packaging to their MP in a matter of seconds. This time, individuals could send a letter directly to Prime Minister David Cameron stating that “speculation and conjecture are no substitute for hard facts” and insisting that the UK Government withhold plain packaging legislation at least until the display bans and the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision are fully implemented and their impacts appropriately evaluated. 18
On the campaign’s website, the main arguments advertised by the No, Prime Minister campaign were:19

  • It won’t decrease smoking in children, labelling the notion that children start smoking because of packaging a “fallacy”; 
  • The UK government seeks to be a “nanny state” in which “adult consumers are increasingly infantilised by politicians who don’t trust people to make decisions for themselves”;
  • Plain packaging is the start of a slippery slope that will lead to alcohol, unhealthy foods and sugary drinks being marketed in “dull, uniform packing”;
  • It is a case of “gesture politics”, as plain packaging won’t work and there are more important things to focus on.

On 10th June, 2014, in anticipation of the UK’s next phase of Consultation on plain packaging, Forest launched a 72-hour online advertising campaign across the political advertising network MessageSpace as part of the No, Prime Minister campaign. The campaign was explicitly aimed at creating more opposition to plain packaging during this next phase of deliberation. The campaign secured “total exposure on websites and blogs including Guido Fawkes, ConservativeHome, Labour List, Liberal Democrat Voice, Left Foot Forward, UK Polling Report, Political Betting and Newsbiscuit.”20 It is not known how much Forest paid for such widespread advertising of its campaign, however it is known that Forest is directly supported by major tobacco companies, who have actively opposed plain packaging legislation (see the TobaccoTactics page on Forest).
Despite a growing evidence base that contradicts these claims made by the tobacco industry and its supporters (see for example, the Chantler Report or this article on plain packaging in Australia), the above arguments have changed little from previous campaigns and tobacco industry arguments.

Evidence Countering Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging

Please visit the following pages for counter evidence against the above arguments

External Resources

TCRG Research

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. abcdeFOREST, Forest to petition government against plain packaging, 30 January 2012, accessed 31 January 2012
  2. Forest, Smoking in Public Places: Forest Submission to GLA, 2001, 14 April 2011, accessed March 2012
  3. abForest, How Forest works, March 2011, accessed February 2013
  4. Twitter Hands Off Our Packs@NoToPlainPacks, accessed July 2012
  5. abHands Off Our Packs Take Action, originally accessed July 2012; web archive accessed September 2016
  6. The Grocer, Forest takes on tobacco display ban, 4 February 2012, p4
  7. Who is website, handsoffourpacks.com
  8. Hands Off Our Packs, Forest announces Hands Off Our Packs campaign team, 6 February 2012, accessed 8 February 2012
  9. Liberal Viassion, Mission, not dated, accessed June 2012
  10. Tobacco Control Research Group, Email to Liberal Vision, 11 May 2012
  11. Simon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
  12. Hands off our packs, Supporters, undated, originally accessed 31 January 2012 and webarchive, September 2016
  13. Chris Snowdon, Plain packs nothing to do with health, Hands off our packs website, 30 January 2012, accessed 31 January 2012, weblink now defunct
  14. Hands Off Our Packs, Progressive Vision backs Hands Off Our Packs!, 7 February 2012, accessed 8 February 2012, weblink now defunct
  15. abDepartment of Health, FOI release – correspondence about the Government’s consultation on the packaging of tobacco products, 13 September 2012, accessed September 2012
  16. abForest, Email your MP about plain packaging, HOOPs webpage, 11 February 2013, accessed February 2013
  17. S.Clark, The EU road to prohibition, Taking Liberties Blog, 29 July 2013, accessed October 2013
  18. FOREST, Say No to plain packaging of tobacco, accessed June 2014
  19. FOREST, Why the Prime Minister Should Say No to the Plain Packaging of Tobacco, accessed June 2014
  20. FOREST, Forest Launches Online Ad Campaign Against Plain Packaging, accessed June 2014