In recent months, I have visited Essentra Filter Products on the Bede Trading Estate in Jarrow.
The company’s better known to many as Filtrona and to our most senior citizens as Cigarette Components.
Based in Jarrow since the 1940s, it’s Britain’s only global distributor of cigarette filter tips.
Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
These jobs are invaluable when unemployment’s a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
I want you to know my position on tobacco after some of the nonsense written and said over the past few days.
I voted to ban smoking in pubs, restaurants and public places on health grounds.
I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses.
But I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
It’ll be a free gift to smugglers and lead to even more counterfeit, more poisonous fags on our borough’s streets.
Two Parliamentary in-depth investigations persuaded me the switch to identical packaging is counterproductive as the costliest part of producing illicit tobacco is forging the boxes and pouches.
Organised criminals are rubbing their hands with glee and a customs officer in Dover warned me it’ll be far easier for these gangs to get dodgy tabs into the country.
I know the harm to health caused by smoking. That’s why I voted for the pub ban.
Yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.
And I’ll oppose plain packs when fake tabs are worse than the real thing.
I won’t vote for bad laws.
Note to readers: This column was written in response to criticism directed at Mr Hepburn last week for accepting tickets to last year’s Chelsea Flower show from Japan Tobacco Industries before voting in Parliament against plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, as reported in the Gazette yesterday and on Friday.