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We get the message: smoking is bad for you. Now leave fag packets alone

3 April 2014

11:31 PM

3 April 2014

11:31 PM

What form do you reckon the government’s consultation on cigarette packaging is going to take? Given that health minister Jane Ellison has said that the government’s intention is clear and the consultation short, I rather think it’s going to be like the gay marriage consultation – which ignored half a million objections to the thing in principle, and just focused on asking how to implement a decision already made. So this business of seeking out the views of ‘stakeholders’ is, I rather think, entirely cosmetic.

I don’t know whether you could call me a stakeholder because I’m not exactly a smoker – I’ve never got the hang of inhaling – but I do like a nice cigarette packet. Camels are my favourite with the cheerful camel and the pyramid – a design icon if ever there was one – but there’s a lot to be said for cocktail cigarettes and the Davidoff black and gold sort, though they’ve been ruined with the pictures of rotting teeth and blackened lungs. That notion of packaging being the silent salesman…yep, there’s something in that.


But is it really the business of Jane Ellison to take away the small aesthetic pleasure of a nicely designed cigarette packet – I once bought twenty Sweet Aftons just for the picture of the poet Tom Moore on the front – in order to ram home the message with which we’re wearily familiar? For the addicts already prepared to pay eight quid a packet is the dispiriting white box going to do the trick? The solution to the ban is rather obvious – scour flea markets for a vintage silver cigarette case and simply decant them into it. As for a new take on the design of a case, something affordable and accessible, why I think that’s a job for Sir David Hockney, an enthusiastic career smoker.

And where does it stop? Smoking is bad for you but so too is sugar – more addictive for rats than cocaine. If you’re going down this route, well, let’s have the blackened teeth pictures on the packets of Tate and Lyle or the fun packs of Mars, just to be even-handed. In fact even a health warning on sugar packets would be good; and if you think tobacco companies are the devil’s agents, you’ve never dealt with sugar processors. But when it comes to sleek shapes, winsome advertising, gender-directed labelling and classy packaging to promote a product to which nine per cent of men and three per cent of women are addicted and which costs the NHS by its own estimate £3.5 billion a year in consumption-related harm, well, let’s hear the case for putting blank labels on uniform bottles of alcohol, Montrachet to Bacardi Breezer. I wouldn’t care for that either, but it would at least have the merit of consistency.

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Show comments
  • Sean Ben

    Smoking is really very bad for health and it contains many bad active ingredients in it that burns and creates many toxic by products and make sit unsafe for smoking.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    You might want to view the documentary, “The Men Who Made Us Fat” and then compare the food industry with the tobacco industry. Deliberately compromising the nation`s health in the interests of profit and the shareholders. it should be against the law, and one day perhaps it will be.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Government consultations might as well all be a sham – without some proper process that doesn’t chop and change with every passing governments administration.

    To me, talk of a consultation that’s designed to affect the statutory rights of consumers ( eg the right to look at prices up front, before purchasing, the right to see the range of choices available, packaging and all, without being treated like a consumer of lesser importance/morals), is perhaps a ruse by which this government hopes to bring EU competition law into an apparent clash with abstract notions about public health –

    The obvious set-up that appears to be in the offing , at least in my view, would be the question of whether and how public health considerations could affect one’s rights as a private member of the public to peruse a properly functioning market.

  • tigerlily

    Smokers are all by definition idiots. I have no sympathy with them whatsoever.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      So puff up you chain-smoking chumps.

  • Aethelflaed

    Does white powder in plastic bags stop addicts? Or does it just mean a greater chance of passing off contaminated substances?

  • Rossspeak

    All this “justification” because smokers “cost” the NHS £3.5 billion a year – do they?
    If ASH’s claims that 100,000 smokers a year die prematurely are correct – just think how much the state is saving in pension and old age care costs.
    Let alone the revenue raised by tobacco tax and VAT.
    The economic argument is spurious – which brings us back to the Health Police and their determination to stop us doing anything that they consider unhealthy.
    Will only get worse – now we MUST eat 7 fruit and veg portions per day ( 5 not enough) – cut out sugar, cut down on meat and wash it all down with healthy water.
    We can all do this until we live to be 110 – and spend the last 25 or so years dribbling in a corner in penury – because there is no way the State can afford the health, pension or social care costs if their efforts to keep us alive longer succeed.
    I am in total agreement with previous “posts” – sod off – we know the risks by now and can make our own minds up what we consume.

  • John Doh!

    The ban on tobacco advertising was great for the cigarette companies, it saved them the tens of millions a year, that they used to spend on branding and advertising.

    • HookesLaw

      A ban on advertising allowed them to spend money on…. advertising?

  • dado_trunking

    We reject big nanny-stateism.
    There was a time when long-life shopping baskets and cigarette cases were trendy and there will come a point at which the consumer will return the trays and trays and boxes upon boxes of unwanted packaging for the shopkeeper to discard. I have seen that happen elsewhere on this planet. It quickly focuses the competitive mind.
    Yep, and suger ought to be sold by the scoop – bring you own recepticle.

    • DavEd CamerBand

      Its strange, I’m 90% sure I’ve seen you on a Telegraph thread advocating bigger government, namely labour.

  • BR

    And how much money in tax does the government rake in from tobacco tax?

    • HookesLaw

      What’s your point? Do you want tobacco banned? How would that work. the history of prohibition is really successful. The tax is meant to be a discouragement. How many more cigarettes would people smoke if they were cheaper?
      My brother in law smoked for years and he died at a relatively early age of cancer.
      My mother in law smoked for years and she now has a cancer of the lung.

      Tell you what, who the heck cares? Start em young, let em die.

  • Kitty MLB

    Yes they should leave it alone, and stop treating people as if they nannying by those who ‘ know better’ but what has it to do with gay marriage,
    ignoring people and going ahead, there really is no connection.
    I hope this was not a little dig, you could have chosen another example
    I am sure 😉

  • swatnan

    No leave the packets alone; we don’t want to see horror comics in our friendly neighbourhood shops thank you. And its not going to deter. What will is to say that if you have a history of smoking, or alcohol or drug abuse, then you go to the back of the queue when it comes to any help from the State to put you back together again; and that means no new heart or lungs or any other bits either. I do not want my taxes going to give addicts a fresh new life at my expense.

    • HookesLaw

      You won’t want to emigrate to Australia then will you?
      As for your other suggestion – no sport then? Injure yourself on a Sunday afternoon game then and you whistle for treatment, I mean it was your own fault? Or go out walking/ climbing and get stranded in bad weather? Why should mountain rescue go to help?

      • swatnan

        There is a difference between a genuine accident and one where you are reckless and irresponsible; anyway private insurance might take care of sports injuries.
        We have the missing MH370 .The liklihood of anyone being found alive is practically nil, and yet vast amounts of money and time are being spent on finding a needle in a haystack, and indeed the haystack itself. Why not wait. Sometime in the future something will be washed up on the shore which will lead to the aircraft. The search should be abandoned.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Politicians smoke, journalists smoke… whores smoke, lawyers smoke, criminals smoke, salesmen smole … What do they have in common? A high stress occupation.

  • HD2

    9% of men are alcoholics?

    Utter garbage – try 0.9%.

    • Trans Fan and Proud

      You may find this interesting. It supports the figure quoted for men and gives a higher figure for women.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Typical fake charity, quango junta weasel words designed to slyly indoctrinate and mislead:-

        “The NHS estimates that around 9% of men in the UK and 4% of UK women show signs of alcohol dependence (sometimes known as ‘alcoholism’) (1). This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life and they feel they’re unable to function without it.”

        Here are the clues:-


        Here’s another word:-


        • Trans Fan and Proud

          I’m guessing the NHS is in a better position to estimate the scale of the problem than either of us.

          • Colonel Mustard

            What happens is that the desired outcome is decided before the problem is rationally quantified. The “scale of the problem” is then bogusly articulated, as demonstrated above, in order to support the desired outcome, often in an emotive, ‘something must be done’ manner.

            Alcohol is no more important in my life than any other occasional pastime but at a social function I prefer to drink alcohol than to abstain. After gardening I enjoy a bottle of beer in preference to anything else. When old comrades visit we like to drink single malt. Is it important to me? Yes, in as much as I would not wish to be deprived of it. Does that make me an alcoholic? According to ‘drinkaware’ yes, even though sometimes days or even weeks go by without me imbibing alcohol at all.

            • Trans Fan and Proud

              I think if you can go weeks without alcohol then you are not dependent on it. I can’t see anyone arguing that you are.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Then I suggest you read the ‘drinkaware’ statement more carefully. It says nothing about the frequency of imbibing but only the importance. It conflates importance with dependence which is wholly dishonest. I can just envisage the weasel worded questionnaire they used to ‘estimate’ the 9%.

                • Trans Fan and Proud

                  And I would suggest that how frequently one drinks indicates how important alcohol is to them.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Now you are conflating importance and dependence. They are two different words with different meanings.

                  Importance:- of great significance or value.

                  Dependence:- the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else.

                • Trans Fan and Proud

                  No, I am not conflating importance and dependence at all. If say horse riding is an ‘important’ part of my life, is ‘important’ to me, I’m likely to go riding frequently. Doesn’t mean that I am dependent on horse riding. If I couldn’t envisage going on holiday for two weeks with my partner because I would miss my horse riding, I might have things out of balance.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  But you are arguing my case for me with a perfect example. The NHS/’drinkaware’ are attempting to suggest that importance is the same as dependence:-

                  “This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life.”

                  They could have said ‘dependent’. They didn’t. Dishonest.

        • HookesLaw

          You have a good point although I must say I missed these wonderful and informative debates because I was in the pub.

          I think some people drink too much for the good of their health – but that does not make then alcoholic.

  • Nkaplan

    Here’s one thing I can imagine happening as a result of this latest bit of pathetic interference. As you say people who enjoy a smoke (I am most definitely not in this category) will be forced to buy a nice cigarette case to transfer their cigarettes into. This leaves smokers with a bit of a problem – when they get down to their last one or two cigarettes they will need to purchase a new packet or risk finding themselves short. Problem is, if you’ve got one or 2 left in your case then there won’t be space to transfer the whole new packet into it. Consequently I can foresee circumstances in which this ban will increase the people’s smoking as, instead of throwing these 1 or 2 cigarettes away it seems likely to me that most would smoke them sooner than they had actually wanted.

    The above is obviously not guaranteed to happen, but could anyone be surprised if it did? This is just the sort of unexpected consequence one would expect to come from such an ill considered, evidence free and moralistic piece of nannying interference.

    • Colonel Mustard

      One might invest in a nice cigarette box of the type people used to keep on tables in their sitting rooms and which were often bought in Cairo. Those usually held far more than 20 and were often musical when opened. The problem is that most antique cigarette cases and boxes were designed in the days when cigarettes were smaller and the modern type seldom fit.

      There is an opportunity for someone to market a range of modern cigarette boxes and cases which could be prominently marked with warnings about the dangers of BIG GOVERNMENT, exceedingly bad for your health, especially blood pressure. They could even have pictures of the most unpleasant forms it can take, such as images of David Cameron, Sir Cyril Chancer and Baroness Cumberlege.

      Of course in a country where legislation is now based on disapproval (refer to plans to ban e-cigarettes in ‘enclosed public spaces’) such boxes and cases probably wouldn’t last long, some po-faced, meddling busybody would soon call for them to be banned.

  • kyalami

    The packaging is part of the sizzle element that helps to sell tobacco. If it didn’t help sales, the industry would not be objecting so vehemently.

    • Nkaplan

      Well it helps to sell one brand over another, its far from clear that it helps persuade people to take up smoking in the first place.

  • david trant

    If someone next to me is eating sugar, it doesn’t cause me a problem, if someone next to me is smoking it does. The obvious solution and something that would kill smoking immediately is for a government agency to be given immunity from prosecution and be allowed to place one cyanide pellet in a cigarette packet chosen at random, once a month, a sort of lottery of death. Now the chances of anyone actually being killed by that pellet are probably similar to winning the lottery, but it would probably put millions of people off ever buying a packet cigarettes, thereby saving millions of lives. Got to be a small price to pay, to rid ourselves of this hideous addiction which blights the lives of so many.

    • Colonel Mustard

      With a suggestion like that the thought of you sitting next to me is a more disagreeable proposition than that of ten smokers happily puffing away. Skin crawling doesn’t even begin to cover it. No wonder socialist regimes are synonymous with the mass murder of their citizens.

    • Kitty MLB

      People should be very concerned about causing you a problem If you offer them a cake, they should worry that you might have put a little hemlock
      into the mixture. People who are drunk can cause a problems
      will you suggest some arsenic in bottles of gin or whisky.
      Your beloved Labour Party have caused more then a problem or two,
      but I shall refrain from sending molotov cocktails in the post.
      This sinister and inhuman socialist answer to someone causing problems
      is very dark indeed. You could just spare a life and move seats.

  • True_Belle

    I think ALL cigarette packets should be dayglo pink … with giant spider pics… The things many people loathe!

    • FuglydeQuietzapple

      The instructress’ voice at my Health Centre’s weight and BP machine would sort them. A voice thrown from inside the packet whenever they try to take one out? And razor wire in place of cellophane wrappings. Miniature mechanical spiders rattling out of the packet … And make them PAY for it all!

  • RavenRandom

    I agree with the article. I thank the government for information (though sometimes it seems the facts change). I know cigarettes are bad for me as is too much sugar and alcohol. Got it. Now sod of HMG I’m over 18, I’ll make my own judgements.

    • HookesLaw

      I think you may have a point (well actually I don’t but let that pass) except – I have to pay for your treatment when you are ill or dying from a smoking related illness.
      I defend your right to smoke and even more so if you pay for any smoking related health treatment yourself. However since the state and taxpayer pays for your treatment I think it is entitled to take steps not to stop you but to warn you of the consequences.
      Indeed some may argue you are being selfish in the extreme in laying yourself open to be a burden on the NHS – never mind your family.

      Society seems to have evolved in ways that make it present in built dangers to us. It seems fair enough that the state to which we pay for its services should warn us in so far as it can.

      • Lancastrian_Oik

        Since when did questions of individual liberty become determinable by invoking some sort of half-arsed utilitarian algorithm whereby an individual’s freedom is to be circumscribed because of the potential cost to the NHS?

      • HJ777

        But there are other objections (apart from the libertarian one).

        If it’s legal to sell tobacco, why won’t it be legal to differentiate your product through packaging? Has the package design ever hurt anyone?

        This will make contraband tobacco easier to pass off as the real thing.

        Do we know that plain packaging reduces consumption anyway? Has this been demonstrated?

        Is it really desirable to have such detailed legislation? Next, will they go for the appearance of the cigarettes themselves? Will they make Swan Vestas (the match of choice for smokers, I’m told) only available in plain packaging? Where do you stop?

        By the way, I dislike smoking intensely.

  • Kitty MLB

    Different parts of the UK used to design their own cigarette packets to make a statement:
    Navy Cut – Ships, lighthouses and the blustery sea.
    MacDonalds Kilties- strong brave chaps in kilts.
    Lilly of Killarney- beautiful scenic views- with mountains etc
    Salome Egyptian Blend -exotic belly dancers
    Miss Blanches Cigarettes- elegant ladies.
    There is also animals on packets, sports people ( especially cricket ) and objects such as candles and torches- and even people fixing cars !!!
    But the most controversial, that will have Nanny state fainting would be,
    Green Doll and Teddy Bear Cigarettes-Good Heavens – were kiddies encouraged
    to puff away.
    And now, we just have a somewhat morbid statements from Nanny State..
    Heaven Forfend, we think for ourselves.

    • HookesLaw

      I has an uncle – going back years – who smoked untipped Players Navy Cut. For a change he would smoke Woodbines. As a child I was fascinated buy his yellow fingers. He died of cancer, but not before they cut all his bowels away first.

      • Colonel Mustard

        My grandfather chain smoked untipped cigarettes from the age of 15, often lighting one from the stub of another and lived until he was in his late eighties. One of his last pleasures was having a smoke. His life was seriously threatened when he was young by catching an unmarked packet in a war caused by politicians.

      • Kitty MLB

        Hooky, are ‘ untipped’ the same as those you roll up yourself
        with tobacco and cigarette paper. Maybe they are more unhealthy.
        Sorry about uncle, that all sounds somewhat ghastly.Yet
        I think is also down to genes and luck I am afraid, old chap.
        On that note, I shall disappear off, look for a pheasant or two
        and not thing of bowels whilst doing so.

    • Alexandrovich

      You’ve missed out the f@g packet par excellence, Passing Clouds.
      (Had to re-post – our American cousins didn’t like a certain word.)

  • Andy

    Of course the real question is why is the Government, supposedly with Liberal Democrats in it, so bleedin illiberal.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Remarkable isn’t it? A Conservative leader who before the election referring to New Labour’s Nanny State promised to “sweep it all away”, in coalition with ‘Liberal’ ‘Democrats’ but who turns out to be one of the most insufferable nannies of all.

  • davidshort10

    Good stuff. Great that the Spectator still publishes such intelligent articles despite being managed by Brillo Pad.

    • telemachus

      I’d love to read the Farage evidence on this

      • Kitty MLB

        Well considering cigarette packets used to have individual colourful
        designs and sent a message. We could have: Join UKIP and
        smoke like a kipper, with a warm photo of Nigel Farage on the front.
        Cameron, Clegg and Miliband should do one too.

        • helicoil

          Glad I buy my ciggies from the local ice cream van, no vat and pretty packaging.

  • transponder

    Never mind cigarettes: what about pipe tobacco? Some of the tins are works of art, and go back centuries in some (few) cases. Why ruin them? Pipe smokers will smoke anyway, and happily (I know: hubby is a pipe smoker and so is boyfriend).

    • pedestrianblogger

      I think the idea is that some young hoodie-wearer, shuffling along with his trousers pulled down to his knees in order to display his underpants and his skull vibrating with the rap music being pumped into it by his head-phones, might pass a tobacconist’s window display and see, and be seduced by, the illustration on the lid of a tin of Parson’s Pleasure or Sweet Killarney, be tempted to buy a billiard, bent or churchwarden and become yet another victim of Big Tobacco.

      He would, of course, become a corpse (with blackened stumps where once his white and shining teeth were wont to be displayed in a habitual friendly and artless smile) within months and we would be denied the benefit of whatever contribution to the good of society he had been likely to make.

      • Kitty MLB

        Well considering the huge variety of designs we used to have on these
        packets, you may have given Nanny State an idea. We could
        have various stages of Dante’s Inferno, Glimpses into the Stygian
        Gloom and pictures of Moribund cloaked with withered hands
        on packets. And say that will happen to you if you smoke.

      • Nkaplan

        Your point about Big Tobacco is perceptive. I doubt this whole idea is anything more than a bit of fashionable anti-corporatism. You hear very few people making a similar fuss over the growing trend (particularly among the young) for smoking weed – indeed most people seem intent on making this easier rather than harder. The only difference I can see is the absence of corporations in the latter case.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Excellent suggestion Melanie – all smokers to buy an elegant silver or pewter case for their tabs.

    • Tony Quintus

      A leather dunhill case and rollagas lighter is far more appealing, though with the rise of artisan made tobacco eliquid, there has never been a better time to tell big tobacco and the tax man to whistle and switch to vaping.
      Which is why I’m sure they’ll be sticking a big tax on glycerin soon enough.

    • Colonel Mustard

      And post the empty packets to the House of Commons, COD.

  • davidraynes

    I ask myself a simple question. Why does the industry that sells this killing substance and the addiction that goes with it, want to fight quite so hard to protect branded packets?

    Why are they prepared to lie about neutral packaging helping smuggling.

    The fact is smuggled brands have succesfully counterfeited well known brands for 20 years or more.

    Packet design is irrelevant to counterfeiters.

    If the industry is prepared to lie, government is probably right not to listen.

    • DavEd CamerBand

      But surely the government wouldn’t propose this as they would lose tax revenue to the counterfeit market?…… Oh that’s right, yet another EU law.

      • davidraynes

        As I understand matters BIG TOBACCO is planning to use EU law to OPPOSE the government proposals.

        The Industry is very active and spending a lot of money fighting for their right to sell addiction, death and disease, in the way that gives them maximum advantage.

        They will probably stick a troll or two on here if they notice it.

        • Colonel Mustard

          “As I understand matters BIG TOBACCO is planning to use EU law to OPPOSE the government proposals.”

          Good. I hope that they do and that they succeed. Big Tobacco taxes me less than BIG GOVERNMENT.

          PS What are Medium Sized Tobacco and Small Tobacco planning to do?

        • DavEd CamerBand

          Oh dear, I’m sorry to see you’ve taken your seat in the pantomime.

    • transponder

      I think life is a ‘killing substance’. Now what?

    • Colonel Mustard

      I ask myself a simple question too. Why does one country need more than one anti-smoking “charity”?

      • Kitty MLB

        Well just in case we did not get the massage. People used to
        collect cigarette packets for the creative individual pictures.
        Such as Lusbys Iron Duke, or Churchmans Top Score-
        And now we just have the reminder of death.

      • Nkaplan

        Probably because it would start to look suspicious if too much tax-payer money went to one organisation. This way that funding can be split between two.